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Pa. pot proponents buoyed by legalization votes

| Tuesday, Dec. 25, 2012, 10:22 p.m.

HARRISBURG — Some advocates of repealing or relaxing Pennsylvania's anti-marijuana laws say they are encouraged by referendum votes to legalize recreational use of the drug in Colorado and Washington state, but Gov. Tom Corbett vows to veto any such bill.

State Sen. Daylin Leach, who sponsored one of two medical-marijuana bills that died in committee during the just-ended legislative session, said the referendums' results will help pave the way for similar measures in other states.

Leach, D-Montgomery, compared marijuana legalization efforts to the debate over legalizing same-sex marriage, saying that once a few states act, it will reveal the falsity of “all the horror stories” perpetuated by opponents.

“More and more states will do it, and as more states do it, the arguments against it will become weaker and weaker,” he said.

Leach said he intends to resurrect his bill to allow marijuana use for medical purposes and will sponsor a bill to decriminalize the drug.

“The smoking of marijuana should not be handled as a criminal justice issue,” he said.

Chris Goldstein, a board member of the Philadelphia chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, agreed that the Colorado and Washington balloting will bolster support for legalizing marijuana, especially for medical reasons.

Goldstein cited a May 2010 poll by Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster showing that 80 percent of Pennsylvanians favored the medical use of marijuana.

“It's a bipartisan issue,” he said. “I don't think that legislators can make it a back-burner issue anymore.”

But Corbett's spokesman, Kevin Harley, said Corbett would veto any legalization bill, even if it were limited to medical purposes.

“He believes that smoking marijuana is a crime, should remain a crime and that marijuana is a gateway drug,” Harley said.

State Rep. Mark Cohen, a Philadelphia Democrat who unsuccessfully sponsored medical-marijuana bills in the last two legislative sessions, said he would introduce similar legislation in the next session but he is not optimistic about its prospects.

Cohen said the proposal lacks support among his fellow Democrats and has no support from the Republican majority.

Unless that changes, “it's obvious we don't have the votes to pass it,” he said.

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