Although he didn’t mention cannabis during his budget address, Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro’s $45B spending plan (pdf) sets the stage for a bill to legalize recreational marijuana this legislative session.
Now, the legislature is working on the budget for 2023/2024.
So lawmakers can see how spending today will be in the future, the budget projects spending beyond the fiscal years as is common.
In the projections, Shapiro includes income for a recreational marijuana program—an “Adult Use Cannabis Tax,” His proposed budget is.
According to the budget, it calls for a 20 per cent tax on wholesale sales of products within the regulated production and sales framework. The proposal assumes sales would start in January 2025 and it estimates generating revenues of $15.9 million for the fiscal year 2024–2025; $64.1 million in 2025–2026; $132.6 million for 2026–2027; and $188.8 million for 2027–2028.
According to Shapiro’s office, a source told The Epoch Times that recreational cannabis was on the table for starting the conversation. For years, lawmakers have been discussing legalizing recreational marijuana.
Pennsylvania legalized medical marijuana in 2016. Most Democrats and some Republicans have advocated for the legalization recreational marijuana since then. Former Democrat Gov. Tom Wolf supported it, pointing out the hundreds of millions of tax revenue it would generate and pointing out that other states, such as New York, New Jersey and Virginia, have legalized casual cannabis use. It will also be legal in Maryland beginning July 2023.
Wolf sent the then-Lt. Governor. John Fetterman was on a 67-county listening tour for marijuana in 2019. Fetterman sold Tshirts that promoted legalization of recreational marijuana in Pennsylvania and the United States during a campaign for Senate.
Federal law still criminalizes recreational marijuana.
Chance of Passing
With Democrats as the majority in the House, recreational marijuana stands a better chance to be voted on by the House.
The Epoch Times reached out to Joanna McClinton, the Democrat state House Speaker, asking if she would sponsor such a bill. However, her office did not respond at the time of publication.
Rep. David Zimmerman (R.Pa.) believes that recreational marijuana could be approved in the House, but would be blocked in the Republican-governed Senate.
“What [House Democrats] did to us Republicans in the House is, every committee has 12 Democrats and nine Republicans, so they can pass pretty much anything they want,” Zimmerman spoke to The Epoch Times. “And then on the floor, if they have an extra vote or two, they can pass it. So I’m going to believe that they’re going to get it passed over in the House. But I really don’t believe that it’s going to have the legs over [in] the Senate, which is still 28 Republicans to 22 Democrats, so I think they’re going to block it.”
After many years of debate, the Senate Republican leadership isn’t sure where they stand on the issue. It’s not an easy no.
“This issue is multifaceted, and proposals would need to first be vetted by standing committees before advancing further and receiving input by each of our 28 members,” Kate Eckhart Flessner is the communications director of Senate Majority Leader Joe Pittman and she told The Epoch Times via email. “Strengthening our communities and ensuring public safety are of paramount importance to our caucus.”
Senator Doug Mastriano (Republican of Pennsylvania), who challenged Shapiro during the 2022 election challenge, called Shapiro’s budget insurmountable and based on assumptions.
“I think it’s madness that he thinks recreational marijuana is a good idea when New Mexico, Colorado, Oregon, and Washington have all experimented with it. It’s not gone well. There hasn’t been a windfall,” Mastriano spoke to The Epoch Times.
According to the Pennsylvania Family Institute, Colorado estimates that it costs $4.50 per dollar of marijuana tax revenue. These costs can be seen in areas such as health care, traffic, crime and housing. The net result is a loss from legalizing marijuana.
“Using the state budget to propose marijuana being sold for nonmedical use in local communities is gross negligence to the children and families our state officials are elected to serve,” In a statement, Dan Bartkowiak from the Pennsylvania Family Institute stated. “This problematic proposal is right out of Big Tobacco’s playbook: Commercialize the sale of an addictive drug, allowing a kids’ menu of colorfully flavored products with dangerously high THC levels by the truckload to be marketed in ways that attract young users. The harms caused by such a policy—especially one with such a high tax rate that Gov. Shapiro is proposing—outweigh any perceived benefits.”
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