After years of apathy toward patients in dire need of treatment so extreme that it bordered on the psychopathic, Republican House Speaker Mike Turzai has paused his normal obstructionism, allowing the state House of Representatives to debate and vote on whether or not to legalize medical marijuana in Pennsylvania.
In a result that surprised exactly no one, the legalization bill passed the House much like it had passed the state Senate—overwhelmingly, with strong bipartisan support.
The move to legalize medical marijuana will make Pennsylvania the 24th state in the union to do so, but getting to this point was no simple feat. The journey to medical marijuana legalization was one that required patients and their families to take their fight directly to legislators, often putting their lives on hold to host rallies and other events in the State Capitol and meet with elected representatives.
The tenacious work of patients, families and other advocates alone, however, was not enough to clear the major roadblock—the House GOP leadership—to passing medical marijuana. Clearing that roadblock also took the inarguable political force that is nearly unanimous public support.
In fact, a recent poll found that 90 percent of Pennsylvanians support legalizing medical marijuana. For the legislature to have ignored the will of a full 90 percent of the state’s population for so long was a gross perversion of democracy, and it was one that needed to end, lest many legislative leaders may have positioned themselves to be job searching come
So, the path to medical marijuana legalization was a long and arduous one, and the legalization bill’s passage was long overdue. The bill must still pass through the state senate and ultimately be signed into law by the Governor, but both of those parties have made public their strong support for the bill, which means medical marijuana is all but officially legalized.
It’s a celebratory time for patients and their families, whose lives have been shaken by their inability to receive the care they need. But it’s also time to continue pushing the conversation forward about the role of marijuana in Pennsylvania, and to ultimately work toward its full recreational legalization.
The public’s perception of marijuana has come a long way since the “War on Drugs” of the 1980s, and that includes the fact that our state government has just officially recognized the its medicinal benefits. While marijuana’s medicinal benefits may be its most important in a number of ways, they are certainly not the only benefits. As states where marijuana has been legalized for recreational use have seen, doing so also has extensive economic benefits.
Legalizing recreational marijuana creates an entirely new industry for a state. That means creating thousands of jobs up and down the supply chain, from grower, to retailer, to consumer. By taxing the newly legalized marijuana, states have also increased public revenue to the tune of tens of millions of dollars per year, which has been used to fund schools and infrastructure, and, in some cases, has even been put directly into taxpayers’ pockets as refunds.
Given Pennsylvania’s current fiscal climate, that revenue would provide a much needed boost, allowing us to fund our vital public programs, while giving taxpayers a break.
If the process of legalizing medical marijuana is any indication, state legislators will be reluctant to consider recreational legalization for the foreseeable future. That inaction, however, will put Pennsylvania at a significant disadvantage, as more and more states continue to gain a leg up over Pennsylvania in establishing a new, lucrative industry, as they move toward full legalization.
It’s time for Pennsylvania to embrace marijuana for all its benefits—medicinal, economic and otherwise—and leave outdated views and policies regarding marijuana where they belong: in the past.