Mon. Apr 15th, 2024

Photo: News_Gov_Shapiro_1: Gov Shapiro in Harrisburg via flickr

Governor Josh Shapiro gave his 2024–2025 budget proposal to the Pennsylvania General Assembly on Feb. 6, 2024. Part of his broad proposal included a plan to legalize recreational marijuana for adults, which would take effect on July 1, 2024, with the state beginning recreational sales on Jan. 1, 2025. The new bill also includes “an immediate expungement of the records of those incarcerated for only a possession-related offense attributed to cannabis,” according to the governor’s press release.

During his budget proposal speech, Shapiro also mentioned that Pennsylvania is at a competitive disadvantage with neighboring states New York, New Jersey and Ohio, who have already legalized recreational marijuana. He estimates that Pennsylvania is missing out on an additional annual revenue of $250 million due to the state-wide criminalization of recreational marijuana.

Medical Marijuana

Medical marijuana has been legal since former Gov. Tom Wolf signed the “Medical Marijuana Act” on April 17, 2016.  The bill authorizes the use of medically prescribed marijuana for those with serious medical conditions. 

Medical marijuana is legal across 38 states, but it has not been approved by the Food and Drug Administration as a viable treatment for any disease or condition. Although several states have legalized marijuana within their borders — California was the first state to legalize medical marijuana in 1996 the substance is still federally criminalized. Under the Controlled Substance Act, which was enacted by the U.S. Congress in 1972, marijuana is classified as a Schedule I substance, which means it has a high risk for addiction and no medical benefits. Other Schedule I substances include heroin, LSD and ecstasy.

What are some reasons people oppose legalizing recreational marijuana?

In 2019, former PA Gov. Wolf expressed his support for legalizing recreational marijuana. However, an ABC27 article reported that House Republicans pushed back against the bill and prevented it from being enacted. The same article mentions GOP concerns about how easing access to marijuana could exacerbate drug addiction currently impacting thousands of Pennsylvanians.

Marijuana has also been implicated in worsening long-lasting medical disorders, including schizophrenia, as well as suicide, depression and social anxiety, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Some studies suggest there is an increased risk of cancer from marijuana consumption, according to an article by the Canadian Cancer Society.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration warns that marijuana can cause a permanent IQ loss of up to 8 points, ruin relationships, decrease educational attainment and contribute to a decline in quality of life.

What are the arguments for legalizing recreational marijuana?

According to an article in the Philadelphia Inquirer, Gov. Shapiro proposed a 20% tax on marijuana if it becomes legal. The same article mentions that Shapiro estimates the cannabis industry will bring in $14.8 million, $76 million, $160 million and $230 million in tax revenue after the first, second, third and fourth year of legalization.

Back in 2021, Pennsylvania law enforcement arrested over 13,000 people for marijuana possession. Those convicted of possession offenses related to cannabis would see their records expunged, which would help communities that have been disproportionately affected by marijuana criminalization, Gov. Shapiro said in his speech. According to a CBS news article, Republican Sen. Mike Regan, who represents Cumberland and York Counties, said that he supports legalizing marijuana because it would “help law enforcement who are battling crime, gangs and cartels over marijuana.”

According to an article on WebMD, there are some studies suggesting that marijuana can help control vomiting, reduce pain, reduce muscle spasms, reduce anxiety, improve sleep and can help ameliorate post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms.

Where do Pennsylvanians stand?

In Sept. 2022, CBS conducted a poll asking registered Pennsylvania voters whether they believe recreational marijuana should be legal or illegal. 66% responded it should be legal while 34% responded it should be illegal. Another poll conducted by Muhlenberg College in spring 2021 found that 58% of Pennsylvanians support legalizing marijuana, up from 33% when the same question was asked seven years prior.

In an article for WNEP, one Pennsylvania resident who was asked for their opinion on legalizing recreational marijuana said, “I don’t see why we shouldn’t. It’s supposed to be a free country. If someone wants to smoke a little marijuana that’s on them as long as it doesn’t affect me.”

 


Sameh Sharoud is a third-year Psychology major with a minor in Biology. SS1015422@wcupa.edu

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