Cannabis legalization in Pennsylvania has both enjoyed the support of the governor and been subject to the reluctance of the state’s Republican legislators. On Tuesday, another push to regulate the drug was initiated when Rep. Jake Wheatley introduced House Bill 2050. 

Wheatley has proposed cannabis legalization in the past, including last year’s unsuccessful HB 50. Since then, the state’s lieutenant governor has embarked on a cannabis listening tour, and the governor has underlined his support for recreational marijuana legislation. 

“We open up the opportunity for smaller entrepreneurs to get into that market,” said Wheatley in a press release. “We believe the full answer is to have a regulated legal market for adult use and we believe the time has certainly come, and passed, really, for us to engage in a conversation here in the Capitol for this critical topic.”​

Such plans have met pushback from Pennsylvania’s Republican leadership, including House Health Committee chairperson Rep. Kathy Rapp. She has stated that she will not advance any cannabis legalization bills out of her committee. 

Last year, a legislative proposal to legalize recreational marijuana was introduced in the Senate, a month after Governor Tom Wolf urged legislators to propose cannabis legalization. SB 350, sponsored by Senators Sharif Street and Daylin Leach, was considered one of the most progressive legalization plans to be bandied about in the United States’ political sphere. The bill would have protected consumers’ right to home cultivation, and prioritized justice for individuals with past cannabis-related offenses. It has not gained much ground, having sat in the Agriculture and Rural Affairs committee since the end of October. 

But what would Wheatley’s plan for legalization look like? It ostensibly prioritizes the participation in the cannabis industry of small businesses, having dropped application and permit fees down from its 2019 draft. 

Consumer taxes would start at six percent, but ramp up to 19 percent on cannabis product sales within four years. Business to business taxes would start at 10 percent. 

Money collected from taxes would go towards after school programs, grants for woman- and POC-owned small businesses, student loan reimbursement, and other governmental services. 

Calling Out The Critics

When introducing the legislation, Wheatley implied that his peers who are holding back cannabis legalization are working against the will of Pennsylvanians. 

“The citizens of the commonwealth have said they’re ready for us to engage in this, so anyone in this Capitol dome that’s refusing to listen to the citizens of this commonwealth, primarily based on their own view of the world, I think is doing a disservice to themselves and to the office,” he commented. 

Wheatley’s draft also includes an emphasis on criminal justice, outlining ways in which past cannabis-related offenses could be expunged from individuals’ records. HB 2050 calls for the release of certain people charged with cannabis-related offenses from jail within 60 days of when the bill passes. 

Pennsylvania is already home to a medical marijuana industry that began sales in early 2018 and has sold half a billion dollars in product during its first year.

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