Gov. Tom Wolf is renewing his call for state lawmakers to legalize recreational marijuana.
The governor, joined by Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, has pitched the idea to GOP lawmakers several times as a way to shore up state tax revenue lost during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Now more than ever, Pennsylvania needs the jobs,” Wolf said during a press conference in Monroe County. “We need the economic growth. We need the revenue and we need the restorative justice that the legalization of adult-use cannabis will provide.”
Republicans have been unmoved by the Wolf administration’s petitions so far. Last month, in response to a similar request to legalize marijuana, House Republican spokesman Jason Gottesman said it was disingenuous of Wolf to call for marijuana to be legalized at the same time he was criticizing the legislature’s fall agenda.
“Outside of a pandemic, this juxtaposition would be quixotic. Given the overwhelming number of crises facing our Commonwealth today, it is flat-out concerning,” Gottesman said in a statement.
In another attempt to make the case Tuesday, Wolf chose to highlight the benefits he says the industrial hemp industry has been bringing to Pennsylvania.
The crop, which is related to marijuana had been banned in the 1930s, but the commonwealth green-lit research on the plant that can be used for clothing, building materials, medicine and more. Hemp does not contain enough THC, the chemical found in marijuana, to produce a high.
It was re-legalized at the federal level in 2018.
Wolf says in just the last year alone, the state Agriculture Department has issued hundreds of hemp growing permits across 61 counties.
“Hemp is now a very fast growing industry in Pennsylvania once again, one that is diversifying our economy and helping to strengthen it.”
Monroe County farmer Eric Titus White joined Wolf and others during Tuesday’s event. He said he started out farming five acres of the plant in Northeastern Pennsylvania last year.
“It was wildly rewarding for my family as well as for my community. I was able to bring together people from around East Stroudsburg and the Pocono Mountains…and open my farm up and show people what it meant to grow hemp,” White said.
He said his operation is growing the crop for medicine, clothing, building materials, and agriculture tourism. He even showcased hemp bricks he plans to build with.
“I’m the perfect example of the ability of this plant to bring the community together, to start new business, and to start an education program about what our…sustainable future looks like in agriculture in Pennsylvania,” White said.
The hemp industry is already worth several billion dollars and is expected to grow exponentially in the coming decade according to market research.
Wolf said this fact, as well as the kind of success White says he is having, means Pennsylvania can handle legalizing recreational marijuana.
Several Northeastern states, including Massachusetts, have already legalized adult use cannabis. An in-depth look at that state by WBUR showed demand for cannabis products has remained high months into the pandemic.
Wolf said the pressure to make that happen in Pennsylvania is particularly high this year because New Jersey voters are considering a legalization ballot measure this election.
“There’s much more that needs to be done to reverse the decades of injustice, and we need to start by decriminalizing cannabis and legalizing it for adult use. The majority of Pennsylvanians support legalizing cannabis for adult use and it’s a needed step toward restorative justice,” Wolf said.
Pennsylvania Republican lawmakers say that kind of proposal will not be on the table anytime soon.
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