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With State Searching For Revenue, Is Marijuana A Possible Solution?

The state Capitol building in Harrisburg is lit with green lights to celebrate the passing of the medical marijuana bill.

As GOP leaders search high and low for more than $2 billion to patch the commonwealth’s budget gaps, one state senator is trying to tempt his colleagues with revenue projections from one of his longtime pet issues—recreational marijuana.

Over the last several years, Democrat Daylin Leach has never had much luck getting the legislature to take recreational weed seriously.

The Montgomery County lawmaker said he still doesn’t have any illusions about getting a bill on the table for the current budget. Instead, he’s hoping new revenue estimates—which his staff put together with help from budget experts—grease the wheels for the coming years.

Especially, he said, because they show significant, recurring revenue.

“We’re heading into a period of enormous, unsustainable structural deficit, and a reluctance to raise any sort of money necessary to address them,” he said. “I think this is a particularly propitious time to start talking about doing this.”

The figures predict that after two years of legalization, marijuana tax revenue could add up to more than $1 billion. After four, they show $1.5 billion. That’s more than many other non-tax revenue sources like gambling and liquor, Leach noted.

“The legislature’s like a very thirsty person,” he said. “They’re desperate for a drink, and there’s a big old glass of ice water just sitting on the table.”

The projections use Colorado’s earnings as a baseline, controlling for the states’ different taxes, and multiplying the Colorado numbers to account for Pennsylvania’s larger population.

The result is an estimate that’s a little rough and doesn’t account for several factors that could influence marijuana sales—like, for instance, Pennsylvania’s older population.

But Leach said it’s still a good indicator that legalization is worth considering.

“If this was a secret ballot, I think it would pass,” he said. “I’ve had so many members come up to me—I had one member come up and say they wish it would pass so they could smoke it on their porch instead of in their living room.”

Despite the Democrat's optimism, many in Harrisburg maintain that recreational marijuana is unrealistic.

Senator Vince Hughes, the Democratic Appropriations Committee Chair, said he’s concerned about its longstanding status as a gateway drug.

“No, no,” Hughes said immediately when asked if Leach’s bill would ever have a chance.

“There’s too many hurdles that have to be addressed before the idea of recreational marijuana can become law in the commonwealth of Pennsylvania,” he said.

A spokesman for Gov. Tom Wolf said the commonwealth needs to focus on rolling out medical marijuana before worrying about the recreational side.

Undeterred, Leach said he plans to distribute his revenue projections around the legislature next week.