Pennsylvania Rep. Jake Wheatley filed a bill, HB 50, on Monday that marks his second attempt to legalize recreational marijuana through the state legislature.
The bill would amend the state’s Medical Marijuana Act, passed in 2016, and add adult-use protections. If the bill passes, anyone ages 21 and up will be allowed to consume and possess cannabis, as well as cultivate up to six plants, according to a post from Wheatley’s official Facebook page.
The bill will also “create a framework for social justice reform by expunging criminal records, exonerating anyone incarcerated for now-legal cannabis charges and returning driver’s and professional licenses” to anyone who had theirs confiscated as a result of cannabis-related crimes, per a press release from Wheatley’s office.
Wheatley’s previous effort to legalize cannabis, HB 2600, died in the General Assembly’s Health Committee last session. But Wheatley, who represents Pennsylvania’s 19th district — including Pittsburgh — and chairs the House’s Finance Committee, looks to ride the continuing turn of opinion in Pennsylvania in recent years, best evidenced by the support he’s already received from HB 50’s 25 cosponsors.
“Over the past decade, support for legalizing recreational cannabis has almost doubled to nearly 60 [percent] of all Commonwealth residents being in favor of legalization,” said Wheatley in a memo that called on his peers to cosponsor the bill. “The growth of medical cannabis has demonstrated the positive effects this industry is capable of achieving. House Bill 50 would not only implement the tax rates as suggested by the Auditor General’s report, which would generate upward of $580 million in new tax revenue for the Commonwealth, it also… incentivizes cannabis businesses to partner with PA farmers, as well as invests in student debt forgiveness, after-school programs and affordable housing.”
Wheatley told Cannabis Now over the phone about how he got the ball rolling on his latest legalization effort.
“After the Auditor General’s report on the potential for state tax revenue [released July 2018], and as we were contemplating what the budget situation was going to look like going into this year, we really started to get serious about it,” Wheatley said.
“We had always been looking at the issue, but the timing was never quite right,” he continued. “But I think when Auditor General DePasquale came out with the potential for the state revenue, on top of what was happening nationally and around us in our neighboring states, I think it felt like the timing had emerged for the conversation to move forward.”
Wheatley noted with a laugh that although he only had a dozen cosponsors last time around, this time he’s kicking things off with more than double that number.
“We have talked to a number of our colleagues who are supportive of this idea,” Wheatley said. “They say to us privately if it were up to a vote, they would support the vote, but they’re still a little uneasy with being out front with it because they’re not sure where their constituents are.”
The Marijuana Policy Project also weighed in on the bill to Cannabis Now.
“We are encouraged by Rep. Wheatley’s proposal to end the destructive and counterproductive policy of marijuana prohibition in the Keystone State and to replace it with a thoughtful system of taxation and regulation of cannabis for adults’ use,” said Karen O’Keefe, MPP’s director of state policies. “His proposal would put equity at the forefront of legalization, expunging past convictions, releasing marijuana prisoners and creating a diverse industry. Instead of wasting tax dollars on derailing marijuana consumers’ lives, cannabis would be legally sold and taxed, with the proceeds benefiting Pennsylvania communities.”
According to the bill itself, the bulk of responsibilities for enforcement of HB 50 would fall on the Department of Education (to protect the kids), the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency and the Bureau of Liquor Control Enforcement, who would impose penalties. And Wheatley said the state intends to use the tax revenue from legal marijuana to help alleviate student loan debt, fund affordable housing and create more afterschool programs for Pennsylvania’s children.
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