Governor of Pennsylvania Asks Legislators To Consider Legalizing Recreational Cannabis

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Tom Wolf, the Governor of Pennsylvania, now numbers himself among Pennsylvanians who stand in favor of legalizing recreational cannabis. It took some time for Gov. Wolf to come around to this position, and the efforts of his Lt. Governor, John Fetterman, are largely to thank for evolution on the issue of legal marijuana.

On Wednesday, Wolf held a press conference announcing his office’s publication of the report on Lt. Gov. Fetterman’s statewide cannabis listening tour. That report showed significant majority support for recreational legalization among those who attended listening tour events, as well as residents who weighed in online. As a result, Gov. Wolf said that he now supports legislative efforts to make recreational cannabis use legal. And he’s calling on lawmakers to draft a bill that puts criminal justice reforms at the heart of the state’s plan to legalize weed.

Listening Tour Report Persuades Gov. Wolf to Support Recreational Legalization

Public officials in Pennsylvania began 2019 with some serious momentum toward legalizing recreational cannabis. In addition to an early 2019 poll placing pro-legalizing support at 59 percent among Pennsylvania voters and an overwhelming show of support for legalization among attendees of Fetterman’s listening tour events—with one county offering unanimous support—Pennsylvania senators introduced a bill in March, SB 350, to legalize adult cannabis use.

That bill included many provisions to address disparities in cannabis law enforcement and earmark tax revenue for schools and other public services. Specifically, SB 350 would have not just expunged criminal records for non-violent cannabis convictions and halt any pending marijuana cases, it also would have commuted the sentence of anyone currently behind bars for misdemeanor marijuana offenses.

At the time, however, Gov. Tom Wolf had signaled only that he supported taking a closer look at recreational legalization. He did not yet have a clear stance on the issue. Even while hesitant to embrace full legalization, however, Gov. Wolf still championed marijuana policy reform. Beyond his long-time support for decriminalizing marijuana, Wolf signed the state’s 2016 medical marijuana bill into law, and this summer his administration oversaw a significant expansion to the state’s medical cannabis program. But it was Lt. Gov. Fetterman’s report on his statewide tour that ultimately persuaded the Gov. Wolf to endorse recreational.

Gov. Wolf Gives Legislators Three Recommendations for New Legal Weed Bill

Tweeting after a Wednesday press conference, Gov. Wolf called on the Pennsylvania Legislature to implement three key recommendations in any new cannabis-related legislation. The three recommendations stem directly from Lt. Gov. Fetterman’s report. First, Wolf wants lawmakers to draft a bill to decriminalize low-level cannabis offenses, a position he has himself long held. Beyond that, Wolf wants lawmakers to pass a bill to expunge past convictions of minor cannabis-related crimes. And finally, Wolf wants legislators to have a serious debate over the issue of legal recreational cannabis. Should lawmakers side with legalization, Wolf signaled Wednesday that he would sign such a bill.

It’s so far unclear whether Wolf would support a bill that would commute the sentences of those currently serving time for marijuana offenses, as SB 350 proposed this past March. But during the Wednesday press conference, Gov. Wolf reminded Pennsylvanians that expedited pardons for low-level marijuana convictions are already available from the governor’s office. In other words, those with cannabis-related criminal records don’t have to wait for lawmakers to pass an expungement bill.

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