Rather than watch potential jobs and tax revenue migrate across the Delaware bridges, Pennsylvania should start its own regulated and taxed recreational marijuana market.
If bridge traffic between Pennsylvania and New Jersey seemed heavier than usual Thursday, could marijuana be to blame?
After many delays, New Jersey’s recreational marijuana program is finally open, meaning that anyone over 21 — including out-of-state residents — can purchase up to an ounce of dried flower, concentrated oils, tinctures, chewable tablets, and other forms of cannabis.
While medical marijuana has been legal in both New Jersey and Pennsylvania for a while, these programs are limited to people who have been given a prescription by a doctor and certified by the state in order to treat a specific list of illnesses. If the experience of other states can be used as a guide, New Jersey is likely to see modest increases in marijuana usage and a moderate boost in terms of jobs and tax revenue as a result of legalization.
After decades marked by the War on Drugs and concerns about Reefer Madness, marijuana legalization has become a bipartisan cause for lawmakers across the country. Recent polling from CBS News showed two-thirds of Americans in support of legalizing recreational marijuana. In Pennsylvania, polling shows nearly 60 percent of the state’s residents in favor, with roughly a quarter opposed.
Opponents of legalization, which include most of the Republicans running for Pennsylvania governor and anti-drug Democrats such as Patrick Kennedy, say marijuana has dangerous effects on young brains, that we don’t have enough research to justify the safety claims of legalization activists, and the tax revenue gains from legalization won’t cover the societal costs of increased usage.
But with New Jersey’s recreational marijuana program beginning Thursday, it is no longer possible to prevent Pennsylvanians over the age of 21 from purchasing cannabis, even if we wanted to. Rather than watch potential jobs and tax revenue migrate across the Delaware bridges, Pennsylvania should start its own regulated and taxed recreational marijuana market.
After all, there are societal costs to the status quo. Pennsylvania’s marijuana laws are among the nation’s harshest. Police arrested more than 20,000 people for marijuana possession in 2020, taking up police time and filling detention facilities with nonviolent offenders. These laws are not applied equally across the commonwealth’s residents. Black Pennsylvanians are eight times more likely to be arrested for possession, despite the fact that usage rates are roughly equal across racial categories. This makes getting a job and establishing yourself financially more difficult.
Given marijuana prohibition’s disproportionate impact, it is also important that we legalize it in a way that is not exclusionary. Thankfully, there is already a good, bipartisan bill that does exactly that. State Sens. Dan Laughlin, a Republican from Erie, and Sharif Street, a Philadelphia Democrat, have devised a bill that advocates have called the gold standard of equitable marijuana legalization. Beyond simply setting up recreational dispensaries, Street and Laughlin’s legislation would allow for a small amount of home-growing, fund less-established entrepreneurs interested in the business, release those currently serving time for nonviolent marijuana-related offenses, and expunge convictions for possession.
These steps would allow the state to go beyond simply preventing a neighbor from profiting at our expense. They would provide restorative justice after decades of ruined lives and livelihoods.
Prohibition has long been the wrong policy for Pennsylvania, but with so much of the state now within driving distance of a recreational dispensary, it will be less effective than ever.
In the words of reggae legend Peter Tosh, legalize it.
— Philadelphia Daily News/Inquirer