Auditor general, Pittsburgh mayor call for marijuana legalization
Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto joined Pennsylvania Auditor General Eugene DePasquale in calling Thursday for state leaders to legalize marijuana for recreational use, saying it could create a $1.7 billion industry that would generate more than $500 million in annual tax revenue.
Peduto and DePasquale said legalizing recreational pot also would eliminate many legal and societal problems that people busted for marijuana face.
“This issue not only has a revenue side to it, but it also has a personal side to it — people whose lives are thrown out of balance because of the penalization of cannabis not being legal, people who are not able to have access to housing or access to jobs or access to an opportunity in life,” Peduto said.
DePasquale, who has long advocated for marijuana legalization, issued a 14-page report showing the potential financial benefits during a news conference in Peduto’s office.
The mayor, who publicly pledged support for marijuana legalization for the first time in May, said marijuana can benefit people suffering from medical conditions who do not qualify for medical marijuana. Pittsburgh City Council decriminalized marijuana possession in 2016.
DePasquale supports legalizing marijuana for Pennsylvanians 21 and older. He said 9.5 million Pennsylvanians are 21 or older, and polling indicates 8.3 percent of them have admitted using marijuana.
Residents in Colorado and Washington, where marijuana is legal, spend an average of $2,080 each year on pot, according to DePasquale. If Pennsylvania mirrored those states, marijuana sales would top $1.6 billion annually, he said.
DePasquale is proposing a marijuana sales tax of at least 35 percent. At that rate, DePasquale predicted, marijuana sales alone could generate $581 million in annual tax revenue for Pennsylvania — and he called that a conservative estimate. Related businesses could provide additional economic benefits.
“Just imagine what good we could do with that in Pennsylvania,” DePasquale said.
The money could be used for initiatives such as expanding the Children’s Health Insurance Program, treating opioid addition, providing early childhood education and veterans services, DePasquale said.
“Right now, 61 percent of all Americans support, according to recent polling by reputable polling services, legalizing marijuana,” DePasquale said. “In Pennsylvania, it’s 56 percent. This is an issue that is clearly moving in a direction where there is broad acceptance.”
DePasquale suggested that Allegheny and Philadelphia counties could seek permission to levy an additional local tax of 1 percent to 2 percent. It would mean $3.8 million annually for Allegheny County and $6.9 million for Philadelphia.
The auditor general conceded that smoking marijuana can cause health problems, but said “people are going to use it anyhow.”
He said Canada’s legalization of the drug has not caused widespread problems and noted that officials in New York, Ohio, West Virginia, Delaware, Maryland and New Jersey are considering legalization bills.
“The time for Pennsylvania legislators to act is right now,” DePasquale said.
Bob Bauder is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Bob at 412-765-2312, email@example.com or via Twitter @bobbauder.