As a member of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, representing District 186 since 2013, Representative Jordan A. Harris is hoping to make a big change in Pennsylvania's laws. In a memorandum circulated to all House members on June 9, Rep. Harris stated that he will be introducing legislation to legalize recreational marijuana, allowing it to be sold in the already-regulated state liquor stores.
In citing the experiences of Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, and Washington, he believes legalizing marijuana will result in the exact kind of financial windfall Pennsylvania's budget needs. Rep. Harris believes this would allow the state to make "critical investments in education and essential programs" by providing "the much-needed tax revenue to help with our funding issues."
Rep. Harris points out that in the last few years, tax revenue from marijuana sales in generated $70 million in Washington and $135 million in Colorado. He even goes so far as to point out that Colorado's population is only half that of Pennsylvania's, meaning the state could take in even more than that.
This legislation is nothing new for Rep. Harris. Earlier in the year, Rep. Harris made one of his biggest shows of support for legal recreational marijuana, joining advocates in pushing Pennsylvania "in the right direction in how we deal with cannabis."
Derek Rosenzweig of PhillyNORML, who is working with Rep. Harris on his bill, stated that "the people of Pennsylvania deserve to see prohibition repealed now. We should be allowed to grow or use cannabis for personal use, legally. A common sense system of regulation can be put into place for adults who chose to consume cannabis."
This proposed bill follows in the wake of successful efforts towards decriminialization of marijuana as well as the legalization of medical marijuana. Philadelphia's successful decriminalization policy ($25 fine and a code violation), which has saved $4 million dollars and reduced possession arrests by 80% since late 2004, influenced Pittsburg to adopt a similar policy ($100 ticket). Now Representative Ed Gainey wants to bring a similar policy statewide ($100 maximum fine). As for medical marijuana, just in April, Governor Wolf signed the Medical Marijuana Act into law. Though the program won't be operational until November 2017 at the earliest, work has already begun on setting up the appropriate infrastructure.
Rep. Harris proclaimed that "We are leaving money on the table when it comes to revenue and tax dollars because we're not legalizing it. I visited Colorado and saw how they did the dispensaries in Colorado, and I see how much revenue they're bringing into the state."
Part of the problem in getting the medical marijuana bill through the Pennsylvania legislature was the logistics – how would the system operate. Rep. Harris sidesteps this issue by running all sales through state-controlled liquor stores. Support from the UFCW Local 1776, the union representing the workers for state stores, comes in the form of statements from Wendell Young IV, the president of the UFCW.
"We just have to spend a little bit of money modifying the systems we have now and moving things around," he said. This would allow the state to collect the new stream of tax revenue without spending the amounts that would be required to create massive distribution facilities and programs. They're already there.