PHILADELPHIA, PA (Dec. 6, 2021) – Two bills filed in the Pennsylvania legislature would legalize the adult use of marijuana despite ongoing federal cannabis prohibition.

Rep. Jake Wheatley (D) and Rep.Dan Frankel (D), along with a large coalition of democrats, introduced House Bill 2050 (HB2050) on Oct. 27. The proposed law would make cannabis use legal for adults age 21 and over to purchase and possess up to an ounce of cannabis. It would also create a permitting system for home cultivation. Permit holders could grow up to three mature and three immature plants. HB2050 includes provisions to expunge prior convictions for possession and cultivation activities made legal under the new law.

“Not only would it create jobs and generate much-needed revenue, but it contains important social justice provisions that would eliminate the aggressive enforcement of simple marijuana possession laws in marginalized communities,” Wheatley said.

The legislation would also create a regulatory framework, establishing the Pennsylvania Cannabis Regulatory Control Board for licensing purposes, commercial cultivation and retail sale of marijuana.

Sen. Dan Laughlin (R) and Sen. Sharif Street (D) introduced Senate Bill 473 (SB473) in October. Under the proposed law, adults 21 and older could purchase and possess up to 30 grams of cannabis, five grams of marijuana concentrate products and 500 milligrams of THC contained in cannabis-infused products. The law includes provisions that would allow medical Pennsylvanians with medial marijuana cards to home grow cannabis.

EFFECT ON FEDERAL PROHIBITION

Pennsylvania legalized medical marijuana 5 years ago and recently expanded its program.

Under the federal Controlled Substances Act (CSA) passed in 1970, the federal government maintains complete prohibition of marijuana. Of course, the federal government lacks any constitutional authority to ban or regulate cannabis within the borders of a state, despite the opinion of the politically connected lawyers on the Supreme Court. If you doubt this, ask yourself why it took a constitutional amendment to institute federal alcohol prohibition.

The legalization of marijuana for personal use in Pennsylvania would take the next step and remove another layer of laws prohibiting the possession and use of marijuana in the state even though federal prohibition would remain in effect. This is significant because FBI statistics show that law enforcement makes approximately 99 of 100 marijuana arrests under state, not federal law. When states stop enforcing marijuana laws, they sweep away most of the basis for 99 percent of marijuana arrests.

Furthermore, figures indicate it would take 40 percent of the DEA’s yearly budget just to investigate and raid all of the dispensaries in Los Angeles – a single city in a single state. That doesn’t include the cost of prosecution. The lesson? The feds lack the resources to enforce marijuana prohibition without state assistance.

A GROWING MOVEMENT

Colorado, Washington state, Oregon and Alaska were the first states to legalize recreational cannabis, and California, Nevada, Maine and Massachusetts joined them after ballot initiatives in favor of legalization passed in November 2016. Michigan followed suit when voters legalized cannabis for general use in 2018. Vermont became the first state to legalize marijuana through a legislative act in 2018. Illinois followed suit in 2019. New Jersey, Montana and Arizona all legalized recreational marijuana through ballot measures in the 2020 election. Earlier this year, New YorkNew MexicoVirginia and Connecticut legalized marijuana through legislative action.

With 36 states allowing cannabis for medical use, and 18 legalizing for adult recreational use, the feds find themselves in a position where they simply can’t enforce prohibition anymore.

The lesson here is pretty straightforward. When enough people say, ‘No!’ to the federal government, and enough states pass laws backing those people up, there’s not much the feds can do to shove their so-called laws, regulations, or mandates down our throats.

The move to legalize recreational marijuana in Pennsylvania highlights another important strategic reality. Once a state legalizes marijuana – even if only in a very limited way – the law tends to eventually expand. As the state tears down some barriers, markets develop and demand expands. That creates pressure to further relax state law. These new laws represent a further erosion of unconstitutional federal marijuana prohibition.

WHAT’S NEXT

HB2050 has been referred to the House Judiciary Committee. SB473 was referred to the Senate Law and Justice Committee. The bills must receive a hearing and pass out of committee with a majority vote to continue on in the legislative process.

Amanda Bowers


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