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New Legislation Imagines An Overhaul Of PA’s Cannabis Laws

Eric Gay

On today's program: Rep. Jake Wheatley wants legalized weed to fund social programs, including record expungement; an update on a proposed low-to-no barrier homeless shelter on the Mon’s southern shore; a nursing program outside of Philly might be the best bang for your educational buck; the NAACP is calling for the permanent removal of an Allegheny County judge; and one of Pittsburgh’s busiest libraries is temporarily closing.

Credit Katie Blackley / 90.5 WESA
Rep. Jake Wheatley Jr. joined the state legislature in 2003 representing parts of Pittsburgh and Allegheny County.

Oversight and opportunity through the lens of House Bill 2050
(00:00 — 11:02)

State Rep. Jake Wheatley Jr. wants to democratize how Pennsylvania grows, processes and sells recreational marijuana, and use those tax revenues to fund social efforts like after-school programs, affordable housing, student loan forgiveness, criminal record expungement, grants for women and minority businesses and broader investments in disadvantaged communities. 

As written, House Bill 2050 would both legalize cannabis and effectively overhaul the existing medical marijuana system, Wheatley says. The state Liquor Control Board would hold no oversight power, and companies of all sizes would be encouraged to enter the legal cannabis market. Incentives would include a lower initial application and permit fee, with renewal fees based on gross revenue.

The measure also includes a Cannabis Clean Slate initiative, which would allow for release and record expungement for non-violent offenders, plus a path for people with previous cannabis-related charges to get their professional licenses and drivers licenses reinstated.

The effort builds on statewide support drummed up by Democratic colleagues Governor Tom Wolf and Lt. Governor John Fetterman, who hosted listening tours in every county across the commonwealth in 2019. Of those who attended, 68 percent reported being for full legalization

Homeless shelter plan for downtown moving ahead slowly
(12:16 — 15:53) 

Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto says he hopes to finalize plans to build a homeless shelter on city-owned property by the end of the year. Peduto, who first floated the idea last summer, says he’s been in conversation with the business community and large nonprofits to construct a 70- to 100-bed “low- to no-barrier” facility.

Many shelters are faith-based, enforce curfews or require residents to be sober. Peduto says he wants this to be an all-access shelter. 

“If somebody is addicted or has mental health issues, they would be welcomed in,” he says.

Peduto says he’s trying now to line up financial commitments from businesses, the foundation community and other large institutions to build the shelter, which he says says could begin construction in early 2021.

Some parents reconsider vocational training as college prices rise
(15:55 — 22:05)

Pennsylvania ranks No. 2 in the nation for the amount of student loan debt per borrower, and many families are beginning to question the value of a traditional college education. Keystone Crossroads reporter Avi Wolfman-Arent has this look at a nursing program in Philadelphia that some say is the best deal in the state.

NAACP calls for permanent removal of Judge Mark Tranquilli
(22:09 — 28:30)

The NAACP, clergy and some rally-goers are calling for the complete suspension of Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Mark Tranquilli, who’s accused of making racist remarks in his chambers. He's no longer hearing cases, but the state Judicial Conduct Board could reinstate him. Will they?

University of Pittsburgh law professor and WESA legal analyst David Harris says public opinion—and public trust—play a big role in how the board is likely to decide.

Downtown Carnegie library gets a $6 million makeover
(28:33 — 36:56)

The downtown branch of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh has occupied a squat building on Smithfield Street for the last 15 years, and library services manager Holly Anderton says it's time for an upgrade. 

The $6 million renovation will grow the library up and out by 68 percent, to 21,390 square feet, offering more meeting space and flexibility for new programming targeted to children and teens. 

Hilary Lewis, the Carnegie system's coordinator of e-resources, encourages patrons put out by the temporary closure to try digital content. Local on-demand usage is growing tremendously through lending platforms like Hoopla and Overdrive, Lewis says, with e-books still outpacing audio.

90.5 WESA’s Caroline Bourque and Caldwell Holden contributed to this program.

The Confluence, where the news comes together, is 90.5 WESA’s daily news program. Tune in weekdays at 9 a.m. to hear newsmakers and innovators take an in-depth look at stories important to the Pittsburgh region. Find more episodes of The Confluence here or wherever you get your podcasts.

Kiley Koscinski is a general assignment reporter for 90.5 WESA. She previously produced The Confluence and Morning Edition. Before coming to WESA, she worked as an assignment desk editor and producer at 1020 AM KDKA. She can be reached at
Kevin Gavin is the host of WESA's news interview program "The Confluence." He is a native Pittsburgher and served as news director for 90.5 WDUQ for 34 years. Since the sale of the radio station by Duquesne University to Pittsburgh EPM, Inc. (now Pittsburgh Community Broadcasting Corp.), he served as Executive Producer of Special News Projects prior to being named as host of "The Confluence" five years ago.
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