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December 20, 2018

Gov. Wolf wants Pennsylvania to take 'serious and honest' look at recreational marijuana

Democratic governor shifts position on prospect of legalization

Marijuana Legislation
marijuana plants PA Images/Sipa USA

New Jersey lawmakers will not pass legislation legalizing recreational marijuana in 2019, but issue could be presented to voters as a ballot referendum 2020.

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf may be coming around to the idea of legalizing recreational marijuana, a change in platform since his November re-election.

Wolf, who championed the state's medical marijuana program in 2016, tweeted Wednesday that he believes it's time for Pennsylvania to give serious thought to full legalization.

At various points over the past few years, Wolf has pushed back against suggestions that the medical marijuana program could be a forerunner to recreational marijuana.

In March 2017, after Pennsylvania Auditor General Eugene DePasquale advocated for legal marijuana as a budget antidote, Wolf minimized the fiscal benefits of an estimated $200 million in tax revenue for the state.

"We have a $3 billion deficit," Wolf said at the time. "So that's not going to help."

During a radio interview in August, Wolf again said he didn't feel Pennsylvania was "actually ready" for marijuana legalization.

In both instances, he urged waiting on the longer-term results of legal marijuana in states like Colorado, Oregon and Washington, whose different approaches could be helpful for Pennsylvania to weigh its own options.

While the governor has routinely backed marijuana decriminalization to reduce the state's prison population, his comments this week mark the first public recommendation he's made to explore recreational marijuana.

The tweet comes against the backdrop of growing momentum in New Jersey to pass a marijuana bill expected to reach a final vote early next year. In that case, the holdup has less to do with moral and public safety concerns than with the rate of taxation.

Momentum for marijuana legalization is growing in Pennsylvania, particularly as the medical marijuana program continues to bring additional dispensaries and permits for new locations across the state.

Legislation has already been proposed by State Rep. Jake Wheatley, D-Allegheny, who introduced a comprehensive bill in September.

Ten states and Washington, D.C., have now legalized recreational marijuana in the U.S.

Republican State Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman pushed back against Wolf's comments in a statement on Thursday.

"The governor’s new position on the issue of legalizing marijuana for recreational use is reckless and irresponsible. Recreational marijuana is a mind-altering narcotic which will harm our youth as it is a depressant and a gateway drug to other illegal substances," Corman said. "Combine that with a lack of credible research on the societal costs and opposition from prosecutors, the medical community and law enforcement and you have the makings of a catastrophe."

A 2017 Franklin & Marshall poll found that 56 percent of registered voters in Pennsylvania would support legalizing recreational marijuana, including 44 percent of Republicans polled.

Wolf, asked about his comments on Thursday, said he's being "a realist" and believes the momentum in neighboring New York and New Jersey point toward growing support from residents and policymakers.

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