Pennsylvania Senators welcome bill for recreational cannabis legalization

Included in the legislation is a provision to permit cannabis production at universities, where it can be used for industry-related courses

Bethan Rose Jenkins, Cannabis News Writer/Editorial

In mid-October, something big happened for Pennsylvania — senators introduced a comprehensive cannabis legalization bill. It was filed by Sens. Daylin Leach (D) and Sharif Street (D); details of Pennsylvania’s cannabis bill were initially released back in March.

The bill’s official introduction comes weeks following democratic Gov. Tom Wolf’s declaration that he supports legal cannabis in Pennsylvania. It encompasses a chunk of legislation that would enable state residents aged 21 and above to buy, grow and buy weed from licensed retailers.

Also included in the draft language are social justice provisions focused on encouraging industry equity. The provisions include interest-free loans for low-income Pennsylvanians who are keen to launch a cannabis business, as well as the expungement of prior cannabis-related convictions.

A separate bill also was put forward in October, but it included a proposal to distribute cannabis via state-run dispensaries; Pennsylvania’s newest cannabis bil does not.

Pennsylvania’s cannabis bill would allow 10 plants to be cultivated for personal use

In the event that the bill for legal cannabis in Pennsylvania is approved, adults would be allowed to cultivate up to 10 plants for personal consumption. The bill would also allow social use cannabis cafes and dispensaries.

“Pennsylvania’s [existing] cannabis policy is cruel, irrational and expensive. Prohibition has destroyed countless lives and has cost taxpayers millions,” said Leach in a press release. The Democrat has pushed for legislation in the past that resulted in the enactment of a medical cannabis law.

“We need to stop arresting our kids and funding violent drug cartels,” Leach added. “This is going to be a tough battle, but so was passing medical [cannabis]. We did that, and we’ll do this too. The stakes are too high for us to fail.”

Street says that the economic potential is “too great” to ignore. He claims that the state must fix the damage caused by poor enforcement of cannabis laws, stating that existing prohibition is damaging communities across the commonwealth.

“An end to the prohibition of cannabis is overdue,” Street said. “It is time for us to join the emerging cannabis economy with the legalization of the Adult Use of Cannabis in PA, which should not be a crime when responsibly used by adults nor mandate medical oversight.”

Pennsylvania’s cannabis bill would dampen black market activity

One of the major motives of legalizing adult-use cannabis in Pennsylvania is to reduce illicit drug dealing statewide. Moreover, the bill would put small cannabis businesses in the limelight and give them a chance to shine over larger corporations.

“It’s an economic, political, and moral win for both sides,” Leach said. “It keeps the black-market tamped down, the $500 million generated in cannabis fees would be directed to the schools, [and] it decreases regulation by eliminating the seed-to-sale tracking.”

To master this mission, lawmakers would develop a licensing system for micro-cultivators. For an annual fee of $250, license holders would be able to apply for permits and grow a maximum of 150 cannabis plants.

Based on the details of Pennsylvania’s medical cannabis bill, dispensaries that are already in operation would be able to market and sell recreational cannabis products; although it should be noted that the supply chains must remain separate from one another. No cap would be imposed on the number of adult-use cannabis retailers in Pennsylvania, but the shop owners will be limited to three stores.

Larger cannabis firms will be limited to 150,000 square feet for outdoor cultivation spaces and 60,000 square feet for indoor grow ops. Only one license would be allowed per each large-scale grower in Pennsylvania. A one-time application fee of $100,000 would be required, as well as a $10,000 annual renewal fee.

A 17.5 percent tax rate would be imposed on cannabis retail sales in Pennsylvania. The funds will be used wisely, according to the senators who introduced the bill. For the most part, revenue will be funneled into school districts, which can make their own choices as to how the money is spent, e.g. increasing the number of staff or bulking up teaching program options.

Moreover, the press release stated that Pennsylvania’s cannabis tax revenue could provide “local tax relief to homeowners in their districts.”

“We’re fighting to create an adult-use cannabis program where individuals harmed by prohibition and small Pennsylvanian farms and businesses will have the opportunity to not only participate in the industry, but to profit from it,” said Leach.

No restrictions have been imposed on the type of transport used by cannabis delivery businesses, meaning that walking and public transit are on the table.

Also included in the legislation is a provision to permit cannabis production at universities, where it can be used for industry-related courses. The Department of Agriculture would be required to launch a program teaching people about becoming a ‘ganjapreneur’ in the state’s budding industry.

Senator believes Pennsylvania’s cannabis bill will get plenty of support

Administrative support for Pennsylvania’s cannabis bill is fairly strong, but a bumpy road may lie ahead, due to the fact that the Senate is ruled by Republicans. Nonetheless, Street is hopeful that it will gain enough support to pass.

“I think the bill will ultimately be enacted and get wide Republican support,” the senator said during an interview with the Inquirer. “Many of my Republican colleagues tell me that they support the concept, and believe it eventually will be adopted.”

He could be right. After all, with lawmakers anticipating $500 million in cannabis tax revenue during the first fiscal year of enactment, legal weed in Pennsylvania stands to benefit many people.

Residents in support of Pennsylvania’s cannabis bill can voice their support on Leach’s website. Click here for more information.