Fetterman to launch statewide listening tour on merits of recreational pot
Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman will wade into the weeds to gauge public interest in legalizing recreational marijuana during a 67-county tour of the state beginning Saturday in Pittsburgh.
On Thursday, Fetterman, the former Braddock mayor who was sworn in as lieutenant governor last week, said he is planning a statewide tour of every county to gauge public sentiments about legalizing recreational marijuana.
Pennsylvania is among 33 states that have legalized medical marijuana. To date, 10 other states have legalized recreational marijuana, and others are weighing that option.
Calls for legalizing recreational marijuana have been building since the state legalized medical marijuana in 2016. Less than a year later, a Franklin & Marshall College poll found 60 percent of Pennsylvanians favored such a move. And both Pittsburgh and Philadelphia have decriminalized the possession of small amounts of the drug.
Pennsylvania Auditor General Eugene DePasquale has said regulating and legalizing recreational marijuana could spur the creation of a $1.7 billion industry and net the state in excess of $500 million a year in new tax revenue.
In the fall, state Rep. Jake Wheatley, D-Hill District, introduced a bill to legalize recreational marijuana for people 21 and older and expunge the criminal records of those jailed on marijuana charges that would no longer be criminal under the new law.
Wheatley’s bill would allow people to have up to six cannabis plants, with up to three flowering at a time.
Wheatley and state Sen. Sharif Street, D-Philadelphia, are scheduled to join Fetterman and state Rep. Ed Gainey, D-Lincoln-Lemington, at a forum at the Homewood Brushton Library from noon to 4 p.m. Saturday. Officials have yet to finalize the remainder of Fetterman’s tour, which is expected to get under way in mid-February.
Both Fetterman and Gov. Tom Wolf have said it is time for Pennsylvania to take a serious look at legalizing recreational marijuana.
Pittsburgh attorney Patrick K. Nightingale is executive director of the local chapter of the National Organization for Reform of Marijuana Laws and a member of the law firm Cannabis Legal Solutions. He said Fetterman’s tour is good news.
“With the governor now taking this seriously and seeing the lieutenant governor becoming directly involved, I am very optimistic that this will keep the issue front and center and that it won’t die even if a bill is not passed immediately,” Nightingale said.
“I think the impact (of legalization) will be even bigger than they’re talking about, not only in terms of revenue creation and job creation, but also in taking these cases out of the criminal justice system so law enforcement and court resources can be more appropriately directed toward violent crime and trying to deal with the opioid crisis,” he said.
Nightingale acknowledged the path to legalization may be long.
Indeed, Wolf stressed that any proposal for legalizing recreational marijuana would need to be delayed until the state finishes rolling out its medical marijuana program. No timeline is in place.
Wolf said Fetterman’s tour will help ensure state officials weigh all perspectives when they consider legalizing recreational marijuana.
Fetterman said he wants to hear about the pros and cons from regular Pennsylvanians.
“We want to make sure all Pennsylvanians have a say,” Fetterman said.
Deb Erdley is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Deb at 724-850-1209, email@example.com or via Twitter @deberdley_trib.
Deb Erdley is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Deb at 412-320-7996, firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter .