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Democratic gubernatorial candidates agree on marijuana issues

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Friday, Jan. 24, 2014, 10:21 p.m.

HARRISBURG — Five Democratic candidates for governor expressed support for legalizing medical marijuana and most said they would decriminalize marijuana for recreational use.

In one case, it was tentative support.

Treasurer Rob McCord of Montgomery County said at a debate Friday night he would “probably” support legalizing marijuana for medical use and to decriminalize it. ”I need to take a careful look at it,” he said afterward. An aide, Michael Smith, said McCord ”hasn't made up his mind.”

Former Department of Environmental Protection Secretary John Hanger of Harrisburg has been campaigning to legalize marijuana if elected governor. It would save hundreds of millions of dollars in prison savings and law enforcement costs, Hanger said at the debate sponsored by the Association of Justice, a trial lawyers group.

The other four candidates attending the debate were asked if they agreed with former Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell, who said he supports legalizing medical marijuana and decriminalizing its use. Decriminalization might mean small fines but no prison time.

Gov. Tom Corbett, a Shaler Republican, opposes legalization of marijuana and has said he won't sign a bill to legalize its use. His only caveat in recent statements was waiting to hear what the Food and Drug Administration says about medical marijuana. His office said despite news reports suggesting otherwise, he has not changed his position.

Former DEP Secretary Katy McGinty of Chester County said she watched two siblings die of cancer, and if marijuana would help people like them they should be able to use it. She said exceptions should be made in the law for medical use. McGinty also stated “we should stop sending kids to jail for non-violent offenses.” She said afterward she would support decriminalization.

York businessman Tom Wolf said he agreed with Rendell. Wolf is a former state revenue secretary.

McGinty, Hanger and Wolf are former Cabinet secretaries under Rendell.

Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski essentially agreed with medical use and no longer considers usage a crime.

“The Heaven and earth are moving on this and I'll take credit for it,” Hanger said. “If they were Gov. Corbett's kids (who were sick), he would do it.”

Later, Hanger said though the others weren't on board with full legalization, it is “ a step forward toward justice.”

Attending the debate were five of eight Democratic candidates who intend to run in the May 20 primary.

U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz of Montgomery County did not attend due to a “scheduling conflict.”

Two other candidates, Lebanon County Commissioner Jo Ellen Litz and Mechanicsburg pastor Max Myers, were not invited.

Brad Bumsted is Trib Total Media's state Capitol reporter. Reach him at 717-787-1405 or

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