An Open Letter to the PA Senate re: Marijuana Legalization
To whomever it may concern:
As I currently write, Senate Bill 350, the bill calling for the legalization of recreational marijuana, sits waiting to be brought to a vote, due to the refusal of Senator Elder Vogel to do so.
With the growing strain of the pandemic being felt by all in the state and country at large, I fear the inevitable day when the bubble pops and we’re left to clean up the mess. Our systems statewide, both healthcare and financial, are being overextended and the time’s come — with the little stability we’ve managed in this long fight against COVID-19 — where we need to begin weighing our options in restoring the strength of the commonwealth. Comparatively on a national level, we’ve more than proven ourselves capable of exceeding the standards of the nation, going even as far to establish a new standard/model for the rest in their struggles to follow.
But despite this recent surge of effective leadership, we need to recognize our faults and shortcomings — as plentiful as they are — and realize our capability in correcting our course on these issues. The primary of which I am writing to you about is the issue of legalizing recreational cannabis. The country as a whole has accepted cannabis and its medical uses, and — according to a report conducted by PA’s Lt. Governor John Fetterman — a majority of our own state supports legalization as well, with bipartisan support showing nearly 70% of people in favor of legalization. The state’s two largest cities — which represent 15% of the state’s population and 30% of its tax revenues — have already decriminalized marijuana. Currently, 10 states have fully legalized marijuana with more and more considering the option, as the industry generates hundreds of millions in tax dollars every year. Millions of tax dollars are waiting to be generated and invested back into the well-being of the state’s education and healthcare system, which will stand battered once — and frankly, if — the storm of the pandemic passes. With the economy stagnated and evictions on the rise, the country as a whole is destined for another housing crisis that’ll trump the devastation of the 2008 financial crisis. In order to weather the repercussions, it’s our duty to the people of the commonwealth to explore all options in maintaining the health of the state’s economy. The cannabis industry will not only generate tax revenue, but also create jobs and stimulate a weakened economy. With the tax revenue from Colorado scaled up to PA’s population, we’d bring in nearly $500 million annually and even that’s a conservative estimate. It’s not a cure-all to the economic windfall we’re bound to face, but it’s certainly a start.
And beyond the financial relief at a state level, by opening up the marijuana industry recreationally beyond the pharmaceutical industry’s stronghold, the free market will inevitably lower the prices for those who use marijuana medicinally. As the system currently exists, acquiring a medicinal license PA is a matter of pay to play, with upfront costs to get properly diagnosed nearing the thousands, due to the number of tests needed to meet the conditions required. Not to mention there are a lot of people out there without proper health insurance, whose health would greatly benefit from medicinal use, and by eliminating their barriers to entry, will allow them to get the proper relief they need. When we turn a blind eye and allow these people to continue suffering, we just pass the buck down the road and at some point, that uninsured person will likely seek medical help in the form of the emergency room, in which case an already strained healthcare system bears yet another load. And without immediate action taken today, that camel’s back will break and we’ll be left stranded trying to put it back together.
With that being said, if we are to legalize marijuana, it is crucial we do it the right way. This includes, without contest, expunging the records of anyone previously arrested for the sale or possession of weed and releasing all those currently incarcerated for crimes related to cannabis. There is no compromise to be made on this proposal, it simply must happen. But this isn’t enough — we must offer reparations for those who’ve had their lives ruined by a now wrongful incarceration. The precedent already exists in overturned trials, in which those proven innocent receive settlements for their unjust imprisonment. By overturning the illegality of marijuana, we effectively redefine the possession, consumption, and distribution of weed as a legal activity, and thus the definition should be applied retroactively in all fairness.
But these forms of reparations aren’t enough, in my opinion, but rather the logical minimum. It’s incumbent on us, if we are to proceed with legalization, to set a new standard for its implementation by devising a plan that focuses on reparative measures to those afflicted by previous archaic laws.. The fact of the matter is that in states who’ve already legalized it, multiple parties (many connected to big Pharma) have swooped in with the start up capital to establish cannabis grow-ops and dominate the market share, while those who were imprisoned for the same entrepreneurial pursuits are left penniless and out of a job. We need to carve out a place within the fledgling industry for those previously incarcerated to establish themselves. Whether that comes in the form of zero-interest small business loans or part of the tax revenues funding the education of those interested in pursuing business further, the options are certainly out there. It’s not enough for us to wipe the dirt off our hands, we need to clean those we’ve done wrong of the shit we’ve thrown on them. I know prison reform may be the hot-button debate at the moment, but these measures are merely a matter of human decency, something we all (hopefully) can agree upon.
Let’s not forget that PA is more than a state: it’s a commonwealth, a community focused on the welfare of all of its people. And now more than ever, we should strive to live up to that moniker — legalizing marijuana happens to be a small, but crucial step towards doing so.
A Concerned PA Resident