By Sasha Hupka
On Friday, Illinois became the 11th state in the nation to legalize recreational marijuana — and on Wednesday, 30 cannabis advocates arrived in Harrisburg to encourage Pennsylvania to do the same.
The group gathered on the steps of the Capitol Rotunda to call for lawmakers to consider legalizing marijuana and allow them to grow their own.
The rally, organized by the Keystone Cannabis Coalition, comes after Lt. Gov. John Fetterman’s statewide listening tour on marijuana use and legalization, which ended last month. Fetterman has yet to release an official report on the feedback he received during the tour, but statewide polls show that majority of Pennsylvanians support legalization.
Efforts to legalize marijuana are ongoing in the state. In several cities, including Harrisburg, Lancaster, York and State College, marijuana possession is already decriminalized for users with small amounts.
Additionally, a bill in the state House of Representatives would legalize recreational marijuana, building off the framework established when medical marijuana was legalized in 2016. The bill’s primary sponsor, Rep. Jake Wheatley, D-Allegheny County, wrote in the bill’s memorandum that it would incentivize cannabis businesses to partner with farmers in the state and would put tax money collected through the sale of marijuana toward student debt forgiveness, after school programs and affordable housing.
“The crafting of this bill was a collaborative effort with cannabis related stakeholder groups that include members of the medical and law enforcement communities,” he wrote. “Pennsylvanians have spoken. They recognize the once ugly stigma of cannabis is now just a part of history and want the commonwealth to move into the future.”
At the rally, supporters touted the benefits of legalization, including the many ways Pennsylvania could use money collected through marijuana taxes and saved on incarceration. Les Stark, executive director of the Keystone Cannabis Coalition, said roughly 10 percent of the population regularly uses marijuana and the current ban is not stopping anyone from lighting up — just making it more difficult and less safe to find marijuana.