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Another Pennsylvania try for bipartisan marijuana legalization

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(The Center Square) — In what’s becoming a tradition, two senators have introduced a bipartisan bill to legalize recreational marijuana in Pennsylvania.

Despite support from the governor, getting a deal has been difficult to conjure in years past.

The bill, introduced by Sens. Dan Laughlin, R-Erie, and Sharif Street, D-Philadelphia, would make the commonwealth the 24th state to embrace recreational marijuana. It would also follow the lead of four border states to do so.

“Legalized adult use of marijuana is supported by an overwhelming majority of Pennsylvanians and this legislation accomplishes that while also ensuring safety and social equity,” Laughlin said in a press release. “We have a duty to Pennsylvania taxpayers to legalize adult-use marijuana to avoid losing out on hundreds of millions of dollars of new tax revenue and thousands of new jobs.”

Republicans have emphasized the potential boost in tax revenues as a reason to legalize marijuana while allowing the police to focus on more-pressing threats to public safety. Democrats have argued legalization is a necessary step in reforming the criminal justice system.

“We have a unique and singular opportunity to correct decades of mass incarceration, disproportionate enforcement against marginalized communities, the criminalization of personal choice and the perpetuation of violence, which all materialized from the failed war on drugs,” Street said. “Legalizing the adult use of cannabis will help us fully and equitably fund education, lower property taxes, and address a variety of community needs throughout Pennsylvania.”

The duo first introduced a legalization bill in early 2021, as The Center Square previously reported. When former governor Tom Wolf announced his support for legalization in 2022, Laughlin was optimistic, but acknowledged that recreational use would be a years-long process. Last session, legalization bills made little progress in the General Assembly.

Current Governor Josh Shapiro also supports legalization and included marijuana revenues in his budget proposal, but advocates had mixed feelings. While they were happy to see a legalization commitment, activists worried that the high 20% wholesale tax rate would keep most marijuana sales in the black market.

Opposition to legalization has centered on workplace safety issues, DUI-related problems, and the potential federal-state clash that could put gun owners in legal jeopardy.

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