HARRISBURG, PA. (Erie News Now) – A second recreational marijuana bill has been announced in Pennsylvania within the last month.
However, this bill is a bipartisan Senate bill.
State Senators Dan Laughlin (R-Erie) and Sharif Street (D-Philadelphia) introduced the bill on Tuesday.
The introduction of SB 473 comes just two weeks after the announcement of HB 2050 by Representatives Jake Wheatley (D-Allegheny) and Dan Frankel (D-Allegheny).
Laughlin says regulating and taxing cannabis, while keeping it out of the hands of children, is the best option for the Commonwealth.
“We have this booming black market with cannabis and other illicit drugs. So, I look at this as the most responsible way to deal with this,” said Laughlin. “Let’s say you were going to buy a bottle of vodka… would you go to the state store where you know what you’re buying, or would you buy it out of the trunk of somebody’s car out of a mason jar?” he added.
Laughlin believes recreational legalization is inevitable.
“It’s coming. Whether it’s this bill or not. Every state around us is legalizing it,” said Laughlin.
He worries that the Commonwealth with will fall victim to lost revenue due to the accessibility of cannabis in bordering states if the state doesn’t legalize soon.
“With most of the surrounding states passing legalization bills, it’s time to act now before we lose revenue due to border bleed,” said Laughlin in a separate press release on Tuesday.
He adds that the economic impact from the bill could be crucial for PA.
“This is expected to create somewhere in the range of 50,000 family-sustaining jobs in Pennsylvania,” said Laughlin.
Among those jobs, many are expected to help communities and people that have been disproportionately affected by the criminalization of marijuana, a focal point of the bill.
According to the same press release, the bill addresses social and economic equity in various ways:
- Expunges non-violent marijuana convictions and decriminalizes marijuana up to a certain limit.
- Creates licenses for social and economic equity applicants and establishes that the majority of new licensees are granted to social and economic applicants.
- Leverages Pennsylvania’s existing medical marijuana licensees to fulfill demand on an enhanced timetable while providing social and economic equity licensees the capital and know-how to succeed.
- Implements a Business Development Fund, administered by the Commonwealth Financing Authority, to support loans, grants, and studies.
Laughlin says non-violent marijuana convictions have a profound impact on many Pennsylvanians to this day, even if the conviction was years ago.
“We have an expungement portion within this bill that if you have a low-level cannabis arrest from years ago- nothing that has anything to do with a violent crime or a robbery or anything like that- just if you have a simple possession charge that you got arrested for cannabis for years ago that can be expunged,” said Laughlin. “I think that’s important because there’s a lot of folks that have to check that box when they’re trying to look for better employment. It’s held a lot of people back,” he added.
HB 2050 has similar aspects to help those who have been adversely affected, but has little to no Republican support.
Laughlin says his Republican colleagues, in both the House and Senate, who oppose legalization measures, should be cautious on how they approach because their constituents may disagree.
“From statewide polling, roughly 70 percent of Pennsylvania is ok with this, they support it. And I think that a lot of these folks that might be mistaken on their own district, on the level of support for it,” said Laughlin.
To reconcile any potential differences that either party may have, Sen. Laughlin says he and Sen. Street are open to negotiation.
“Senator Street and I are very reasonable Senators and we’re certainly open to discussions about the bill,” said Laughlin.