As a Republican Senator who spent more than two decades in law enforcement, it may come as a surprise to some people that I have circulated a co-sponsorship memo outlining my intent to introduce legislation legalizing adult-use marijuana in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
For decades, marijuana has been used by adult residents in the state, but such use has financially benefitted and perpetuated organized crime, gangs, and cartels. The street-level marijuana sold by these organizations is often laced with illicit drugs and toxic additives, and these criminals have been responsible for violence, mayhem, and murder across our state and country. Pennsylvanians deserve not only safe neighborhoods, but for those that choose to use marijuana, access to a safe and trusted product.
As a former United States Marshal, I had the opportunity to work in federal law enforcement at the height of the drug war, so I know the seriousness of drug use. But I am also cognizant that there has been a significant decline in arrests and prosecutions for personal use amounts of marijuana in recent years. Our law enforcement agencies and justice system do not have the manpower or time to handle these minor marijuana offenses that clog our courts and produce little return. Instead, police and prosecutors need to focus on protecting our residents from the violent criminals and large-scale drug importers that are also dealing in heroin and fentanyl, which kill thousands of Pennsylvanians each year.
Recent years have also brought proven benefits of marijuana for health purposes, which has opened the door for legalization of adult-use marijuana. In 2016, as a member of the House of Representatives, I was one of the architects of our medical marijuana program, and since its inception, we have seen over 500,000 residents enroll in the program. The lives of so many have changed with the safe use of medical marijuana.
I want to build off the success of that program while ensuring its continued viability for the industry and its patients. I also want to make sure that Pennsylvanians receive their fair share from the sale of adult-use marijuana, not the cartels and gangs whose profits are comparable to Fortune 500 companies.
Thirty-six states across the country have established medical marijuana programs and 18 of them, plus the District of Columbia, have legalized adult-use marijuana. Two of our neighboring states, New Jersey and New York, are among them. We will soon experience border bleed with Pennsylvanians contributing to the tax base of those states and helping to pay for their roads and bridges, while the Commonwealth deals with the implications of purchases brought across state lines without the revenue or resources in our legal system to address them.
Independent estimates have forecasted that Pennsylvania could receive $1 billion annually in the form of tax revenue through the legalization of adult-use marijuana. It is important that we use these dollars wisely.
My legislation will direct revenues to cities fighting violent crimes, organizations providing after-school programs for youth in disadvantaged neighborhoods, and local law enforcement for the necessary equipment, training, and education so they can truly serve and protect residents and focus on combatting the illegal drug trade that is responsible for so much of the crime, destruction, and death in our communities.
By dedicating another portion of revenues directly to our Pennsylvania State Police (PSP), we can rebuild our Motor License Fund, which PSP has relied on for the majority of their funding for too many years now. This will then allow for proper investment in Pennsylvania’s roads and bridges, offsetting the costs of building out our 21st century transportation needs and eliminating the supposed necessity for PennDOT’s bridge tolling plan. Further, a strong infrastructure will lead to more job creators and entrepreneurs investing in Pennsylvania’s economic future.
In addition to ensuring dedicated funding for law enforcement and our communities, my proposal will:
- Legalize adult-use marijuana for those 21 years of age and older;
- Establish a new regulatory control board;
- Remove penalties for use and possession by adults;
- Protect the Commonwealth’s medical marijuana program;
- Allow for the legal purchase and possession of firearms regardless of one’s choice to use marijuana;
- Provide for social equity, inclusion, and assistance for business entry into the industry;
- Address DUI enforcement;
- Develop education and deterrents for underage use and possession; and
- Enhance Pennsylvania’s agricultural industry.
For those questioning my sponsorship of such legislation, it is important to recognize that legalization of adult-use marijuana in Pennsylvania is inevitable. As Chairman of the Senate Law and Justice Committee and a former member of law enforcement, rather than sit idly by and allow others to shape the legislation, I am stepping up to be a leader on the issue, as I did on medical marijuana. And I am doing so using a common-sense, bi-partisan, bi-cameral approach that will provide Pennsylvanians access to a safe product, create thousands of jobs, level the playing field with neighboring states, support law enforcement and our communities, and more importantly, defund the deadly drug cartels who have wreaked so much havoc on the Commonwealth and our country for so many years.
Senator Mike Regan represents Pennsylvania’s 31st Senatorial District covering parts of Cumberland and York Counties.
CONTACT: Bruce McLanahan, 717-787-8524