By Phillip Smith
Pennsylvania will likely be the next state to see a marijuana legalization bill introduced this year, as state Sen. Daylin Leach (D-King of Prussia) announced at a Monday press conference that he would be filing one shortly.
After voters in Colorado and Washington approved marijuana legalization last November, the push is now on at the statehouse. Legalization bills have already been filed in Hawaii, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire, and bills are also expected shortly in Maine and Vermont.
The bill will propose a system of taxation and regulation of marijuana commerce.
"This past November, the people of Washington State and Colorado voted to fully legalize marijuana," said Leach. "It is time for Pennsylvania to be a leader in jettisoning this modern-day prohibition, and ending a policy that has been destructive, costly and anti-scientific."
Supporting the bill were drug reform groups and public health professionals.
"Our nation can acknowledge the dangers of cigarettes, alcohol and marijuana while still permitting their use," said Dr. David Nathan, MD, clinical associate professor at the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School. "The only logically and morally consistent argument for marijuana prohibition necessitates the criminalization of all harmful recreational drugs, including alcohol, nicotine and caffeine. We can agree that such an infringement on personal freedoms is as impractical as it is un-American. The time has come to accept that our nation's attitude toward marijuana has been misguided for generations and that the only rational approach to cannabis is to legalize, regulate and tax it."
"Cops see the ineffectiveness and harms of marijuana prohibition up close, every day," said Neill Franklin, a retired Baltimore narcotics cop and the executive director of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. "Keeping marijuana illegal doesn't significantly reduce use, but it does give tax-free profits to violent gangs and cartels that control the black market. Now, thanks to Sen. Leach's proposal, Pennsylvania has a chance to join Colorado and Washington in letting police focus on the job we signed up to do -- keeping the public safe -- instead of being distracted by chasing down marijuana users."
"NORML applauds Sen. Leach for taking this important step forward to end the failed policy of marijuana prohibition in his state. Pennsylvania has long been considered a bellwether state that sets the precedent for politics across the country, as such it is both exciting and encouraging to see the Keystone State take up this crucial dialogue," said Erik Altieri, Communications Director for NORML, "Marijuana prohibition costs the state of Pennsylvania over $300 million a year in enforcement costs and tens of millions a year in lost potential tax revenue, while doing little to keep the substance out of the hands of children or lower use rates. It is time for a new policy that works for the state and its people. We encourage all of Sen. Leach's colleagues in Harrisburg to join him in this call for rational marijuana laws."
It could be an uphill battle. Leach spent the last two sessions trying to get medical marijuana bills passed, to no avail, and that was with strong public support for medical marijuana. A recent Franklin and Marshall College poll had support for medical marijuana at 82%, but support for legalization at only 36%. That's up 14 points from 2006, but still well below majority support.