EYEWITNESS NEWS (WBRE/WYOU) — After marijuana was legalized for adult use in New York and New Jersey, lawmakers are looking to take similar steps in the Keystone State, but is it what’s best for Pennsylvanians?
28/22 News and the Times Leader Media Group worked together to learn more about what legalization could look like in the keystone state in our joint reporting project.
“It’s time to step forward in this and be the Keystone State here. Pennsylvania’s losing out. It’s not like it’s not already there,” said State Senator Marty Flynn (d) 22 district. “I really think that families want their communities back. And I really believe that legalizing marijuana is not part of that story.
Getting blunt about the issue, a bipartisan bill introduced to the Senate this summer could legalize the adult use of marijuana. It also includes expunging non-violent marijuana convictions.
States like New York and New Jersey have already taken those steps.
“It’s on the streets. We have to worry about people using marijuana that’s tainted with fentanyl,” Flynn added.
“Even in the other states Colorado, New Jersey, and New York, that illegal market has
taken away so much of their anticipated revenue that that will always be a problem,” explained PA State Senator Rosemary Brown (R) 40 District.
As the issue remains on the table 28/22 News and the Times Leader Media Group spoke with the experts and lawmakers on what they believe legalization could look like here in Pennsylvania.
“Why not regulate it, tax it, you know the state makes the money,” asked Flynn.
Our neighbors in New York and New Jersey have already seen some of that income growth after legalizing adult use.
“The state revenue over time has been very positive. It often happens when states don’t start as fast but then they do get up to speed. And it becomes a reliable and stable source of revenue. And it can account for up to half a percent of their budgets which can be significant,” said Dr. Anoop Rai, Professor of Finance at the Frank G. Zarb School of Business at Hofstra University.
Dr. Rai says it can also raise employment rates, especially in the agricultural sector.
“There’s been no adverse effect in other words it has not led to any reduction in employment. In fact, it has led to increases,” Dr. Rai continued.
Chantelle Elsner the Acting President of Terrascend Northeast oversees her companies’ recreational and medical dispensaries in New York and New Jersey.
In the state of New Jersey, there is a tax for adult-use customers. And then for medical if you have your medical card there is no tax. So we expect for that to be similar in the PA market,” said Elsner.
Elsner also says that the medical market, which currently exists in the state, is expected to grow by the end of the year.
“So as we see the medical market over this 2023 time frame, we expect it to exceed $1 billion in the PA market for 2023. We expect about a 40 percent lift when hopefully the state converts to adult use,” Elsner continued.
But some experts say that it’s not always easy being green.
“We know that cannabis smoking affects lung function in the long term. So with chronic use, you’ll see a decrease in lung function and overall lung function decline. Long-term cannabis use increases the risk of emphysema,” stated Dr. William Checkley, M.D., Ph.D., at Johns Hopkins Medicine.
In addition to the toll it can take on your health, experts say marijuana, like other controlled substances, can have an effect on the way you drive.
Luzerne County District Attorney Samuel Sanguedolce says since it was legalized for medical use in 2016, marijuana has had a negative impact on the safety of our roadways.
“We’ve seen a dramatic increase in not just dui arrests but the car crashes,” Sanguedolce said.
Sanguedolce also says that law enforcement in other states where adult use has been legalized have come forward saying the financial reward isn’t worth the risk.
“The amount of money that comes into the government is offset by the harms that result. The effects on people the addiction, the medical issues, the loss of people in the workforce, the effect on law enforcement,” Sanguedolce added.
While you need to be 21 to purchase marijuana for adult use, in states where it is legal, Sanguedolce says some studies show a 5 to 10 percent increase in use amongst adolescents.
He says in our area the impact of legalization could be devastating on our schools.
“We already have a pretty significant problem with truancy. So the effect of having smoked marijuana the night before, are gonna translate into not showing up at school the next day,” Sanguedolce continued.
Finally, he says the illegal drug market continues to exist even when recreational marijuana is legalized due to the difference in cost.
“The regulatory efforts to keep it safe, the people that need to be employed to inspect, view the facilities, the security measures that are necessary. So the price on the street makes it far more accessible rather than paying the cost of getting legal marijuana,” Sanguedolce explained.
While some view legalization as progress others view it as an impairment in Pennsylvania.
You can find the Times Leader Media Group’s story on Sunday on all of their platforms.