Pennsylvania’s governor is calling for the legalization of recreational marijuana, but local legislators say now is not the time.
On Wednesday, Gov. Tom Wolf and Lt. Gov. John Fetterman held a press conference in Harrisburg to announce the findings from Fetterman’s statewide listening tour.
“The lieutenant governor made good on his promise to visit all 67 counties to hear from Pennsylvanians about whether or not they support the legalization of adult-use recreational marijuana in the state,” Wolf said. “And among the many who voiced their opinions, the majority supported legalization.”
Wolf asked the legislature to get a bill to his desk that decriminalizes non-violent and small cannabis-related offenses, and to consider legalizing adult-use, recreational marijuana. He also mentioned seeking a path to restorative justice through expunging past convictions of non-violent and small cannabis related crimes.
However, state Rep. Marty Causer, R-Turtlepoint, and Sen. Joe Scarnati, R-Brockway, disagreed with Wolf’s assertion.
Scarnati, who serves as the president pro tempore of the Senate, said, “I do not support Pennsylvania legalizing recreational marijuana. The use of marijuana for recreational purposes comes with too many risks and unanswered questions.”
Causer’s comments were similar in nature.
“I believe it would be a mistake to legalize recreational marijuana,” he said.
He mentioned the serious opioid epidemic facing Pennsylvania at this time.
“Our commonwealth is still struggling with an opioid epidemic, there are numerous public safety concerns along with the significant negative impact on young people across our state,” Causer said.
“I supported legislation to authorize medical marijuana because I believe it may help those with debilitating chronic illness,” he said. “However, I remain opposed to the legalization of recreational marijuana.”
The House Republican Leadership team released a statement, saying they were disappointed and frustrated with Wolf’s call to legalize recreational marijuana, “a drug classified as a Schedule 1 narcotic by the federal government.
“Our state is in the midst of an opioid epidemic. Gov. Wolf signed a disaster declaration over the crisis and renewed the declaration six separate times since January 2018. We do not believe easing regulations on illegal drugs is the right move in helping the thousands of Pennsylvanians who are battling drug addiction,” the statement read.
The team’s statement said Wolf’s call was a distraction from serious issues being considered in Harrisburg, like funding the mandated purchase of new election machines, reducing violent crime and expanding educational opportunities.
“Gov. Wolf and Lt. Gov. John Fetterman are also calling for creating a potential professional minefield for employees and employers across Pennsylvania,” the statement read. “Legalization would create a workplace policy nightmare for employers who abide by federal employment policies, not to mention the thousands of Pennsylvanians who are employees of the federal government, related agencies or government contractors.”
In terms of law enforcement, McKean County District Attorney Stephanie Vettenburg-Shaffer said a prosecutor enforces compliance with laws created by the legislature, and that it would be improper for a prosecutor to give an opinion on whether something should be legal.
“Recreational use of marijuana has been a highly-debated topic for some time,” she continued. “Law enforcement goals include maintaining the safety on roadways and determining when a violation has occurred.”
Legalizing marijuana would require a method to determine impairment for driving purposes, she said.
“Impaired driving continues to be a threat to our safety and determining the level of impairment by marijuana through a blood test would be required to assist law enforcement in enforcing DUI laws,” she explained. “Opinions vary on whether there is currently a reliable mechanism to determine the level of THC (the active ingredient in marijuana) that causes impairment.”
Pennsylvania law currently prohibits driving with any amount of marijuana in the blood.
“To prevent a great impact on DUI enforcement, I am hopeful the legislation contains a mechanism to determine when impairment begins,” Shaffer said “Our current DUI laws do not contain a level that, above which, a DUI by marijuana would be established as compared to impairment by alcohol which has been established by our legislators to be at .08 for DUI prosecution purposes.”
She would want to see that law enforcement would be given the proper consideration in any such law that would be passed “to enforce DUI laws to prevent a correlating increase in vehicle crashes caused by impairment due to marijuana use.”
Shaffer added that the protection of children would be a serious consideration as well.
“I am hopeful any legislation prioritizes the goal of keeping any impairing substance from the hands of children.” she said. “It is hoped that, when any change in law is proposed, the availability of law enforcement tools is considered as it is law enforcement who will, ultimately, be required to enforce compliance in its mission to keep us safe.”