Pennsylvania Governor Josh Shapiro has made a strong case for legalizing recreational marijuana in the state, citing the potential economic and social benefits of the move. In his annual budget address on Tuesday, Shapiro asked the state legislators to send him a bill that would regulate and tax the cannabis industry responsibly.
Shapiro’s Budget Proposal Includes Cannabis Tax Revenue
Shapiro’s budget proposal for the fiscal year 2024-2025 includes a 20% tax on recreational marijuana sales, which he estimates would generate $14.8 million in the first year and more than $250 million annually once the industry is fully established. The governor said that Pennsylvania is losing out on this revenue source to its neighboring states, five of which have already legalized marijuana for adult use.
“We’re losing out on an industry that, once fully implemented, would bring in more than $250 million in annual revenue,” Shapiro said. “And our failure to legalize and regulate this only fuels the black market and drains much-needed resources for law enforcement. It’s time to catch up.”
The governor’s budget also allocates $5 million from the cannabis tax revenue to fund restorative justice initiatives, such as expunging the records of those who have been convicted of possessing small amounts of marijuana. Shapiro said that this would address the racial disparities and injustices that have resulted from the prohibition of cannabis.
Shapiro’s Call for Legalization Receives Mixed Reactions
Shapiro’s call for legalization has received mixed reactions from the state lawmakers and the public. Some Democratic legislators, such as Rep. Dan Frankel, have expressed their support for the governor’s proposal and said that they are working on crafting a bill that would legalize and regulate recreational marijuana in Pennsylvania.
Frankel said that his bill would focus on consumer safety, processing, delivery, and retail sales of cannabis, as well as the social justice and economic equity aspects of the industry. He said that he has already held four public hearings to gather input from various stakeholders and experts on the issue.
However, some Republican legislators, such as Sen. Jake Corman, have voiced their opposition to the governor’s proposal and said that they are not convinced by the arguments for legalization. Corman said that he is concerned about the public health and safety implications of legalizing marijuana, especially for the youth and the vulnerable populations.
Corman also said that he doubts that the cannabis tax revenue would be sufficient to cover the costs of the governor’s budget, which he criticized as being too expensive and unrealistic. He said that the governor should focus on finding ways to reduce spending and balance the budget without relying on new taxes.
Pennsylvania Voters Favor Legalizing Marijuana
According to a recent poll conducted by Franklin & Marshall College, a majority of Pennsylvania voters favor legalizing marijuana for recreational use. The poll, which was released in January, found that 58% of the respondents supported legalization, while 35% opposed it and 7% were undecided.
The poll also found that support for legalization varied by age, gender, party affiliation, and region. Younger, male, Democratic, and urban voters were more likely to support legalization than older, female, Republican, and rural voters.
Pennsylvania has already legalized medical marijuana in 2016, and more than 500,000 patients have registered for the program. However, the state has not yet joined the growing number of states that have legalized marijuana for adult use, despite the governor’s repeated calls for doing so.