Editorial: Is the grass greener where it’s legal?
Could Pennsylvania be the new Colorado?
The state has barely gotten its fledgling legalization of medical marijuana out of the nest and there are already moves to hatch recreational use, and some come from the Pittsburgh area.
Like alcohol, state Rep. Jake Wheatley, D-Hill District, thinks weed should be legal for someone over 21. You should be able to grow your own, and if you have a criminal record that stems from from something that wouldn’t be illegal under the new rules, it should get scrubbed.
Gov. Tom Wolf said in December that he wanted a “serious… look” at legalization, and Braddock’s own John Fetterman is starting his term as Pennsylvania’s lieutenant governor with a swing through every Keystone county to see how people feel about the issue statewide. According to a 2017 Franklin & Marshall College survey, 60 percent are in favor.
It took 13 years for Colorado to move from medical legalization passing in 2000 to recreational use becoming law in 2014. The ball is rolling faster now, with Pennsylvania one of 33 states where medical marijuana is legal. Nine others have joined Colorado in allowing recreational use.
What is moving the needle so quickly? Aside from the popularity of the product, there is the proceeds. NBC reports legal weed generated $10.4 billion in business in 2018 and is anticipated to top $16 billion this year.
Pennsylvania Auditor General Eugene DePasquale has pointed to a considerable share of that industry growing in the commonwealth if recreational use got the green light, with $1.7 billion in sales generating $500 million in taxes.
The Wolf administration has already made Pennsylvania a leader in research on medical marijuana and hemp. It’s unsurprising that legalization is the next step, and if there is a way to generate more revenue through legalization that might prove to be beneficial medically and socially, it seems like a good idea.
But let’s make sure we are looking beyond the bottom line when we are making decisions. Let’s look at the associated costs — both monetarily and in other ways — before going all in.
Like with gambling, Pennsylvania could rapidly move to the top of the marijuana industry. The Keystone State legalized casinos in 2004. In 14 years of growth and expansion of what gambling was permitted, Pennsylvania is now behind only Nevada in annual revenue. Colorado approved its first casinos in 1991 and isn’t even in the top 10.
We just need to make sure that the money doesn’t come with more headaches than a little medicinal herb could alleviate because the grass might not be greener on the other side of legalization.