With the November election approaching and all eyes on the political landscape in 2021, we figured now is a good time to provide an outlook on the potential for cannabis legalization next year.
Here’s what’s going on locally, statewide, and nationally.
Here in Lancaster, we haven’t seen any proposed changes to local laws regarding cannabis since two years ago, in September 2018, when the city of Lancaster “decriminalized” small amounts of marijuana.
Now, someone found to possess under 1 ounce of marijuana receives a $25 fine for the first and second offenses, and $50 for the third. If found using it, the fines increase to $75 for the first offense and $100 for the second. The fines may be substituted with a day’s worth of community service. For amounts above 1 ounce, the old laws still apply.
Several other cities across the state have enacted these types of changes, and slowly but surely we’re seeing positive results. Since 2018, Pennsylvania state police report a decrease of about 11% for people arrested on marijuana-related charges.
Governor Tom Wolf and Lt. Governor John Fetterman have supported full legalization for years, and recently ramped up their messaging to legislators and the public. Not only would it be a solid step toward criminal justice and prison reform, they say, it would provide much-needed revenue the state would use to support small businesses that are struggling due to the pandemic.
However, Republicans currently hold the majority in both chambers of the state legislature, and their leadership has pledged to put a stop to any attempts to end prohibition. That includes Speaker of the House Rep. Bryan Cutler, whose district covers our town of Lancaster.
Most of Lancaster’s state legislators, except for Rep. Mike Sturla, continue to voice opposition to legalizing cannabis.
That means that in order for there to be any shot at legalization on the state level, Democrats need to gain enough seats in at least the House or Senate in this coming November’s election to hold a majority. Unless that happens, we can expect GOP-led committees to reject most bills that would relax rules around cannabis, and to vote down any that make it through.
Most of those knowledgeable on state government politics believe marijuana prohibition will be ended by federal law before we see any further changes in specific to Pennsylvania.
The bill to watch on the national front is the proposed Ending Federal Prohibition of Marijuana Act of 2019, HR 1588. The prime sponsor, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii, introduced the bill in March 2019.
Not much progress has been made on the bill. The last action was when it was referred to the House Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security in April 2019.
That committee is led by two Democrats: Rep. Karen Bass of California, and Rep. Val Demings of Florida. Still, the bill is stalled in that committee because of disagreement over what legalization should look like. Republican members want states to have to legalize it individually, while Democrats call for swift and national action.
What you can do
Any action you take has an impact on the ripple effects caused by citizens voicing their opinions — so please know that whatever you decide to do, you’re helping to make a difference.
Since federal lawmakers are more friendly to the concept than those in our state legislature, one of the most effective things you can do is urge our Pennsylvania senators in Congress to help move along federal legalization measures.
Follow these links to contact Senator Bob Casey (in favor) and Senator Pat Toomey (against) legalization. A bunch of fantastic talking points to use in a letter, email, or phone call are available here, compiled by the Marijuana Policy Project.