HARRISBURG, Pa. — Currently, 18 U.S. states have legalized the use of recreational marijuana; now, state legislators hope to add Pennsylvania to that list.
Republican State Senator Mike Regan of Cumberland and York Counties announced in October of 2021 that he would introduce legislation that would legalize recreational marijuana for those 21 and older. Regan stated he also hopes to establish a new regulatory control board, remove penalties for use and possession by adults, allow for the legal purchase and possession of firearms regardless of one’s choice to use marijuana, enhance Pennsylvania’s agricultural industry, and more.
"I think it's smart now that we not only make a safe product [and] tax it, [but also] regulate it [and] use...the billions of dollars that are flowing out into the worst criminals in history [and] put that into good use in Pennsylvania and make a safer product," said Regan. "What's on the streets now that over two million Pennsylvanians are using is untested [and] many times unsafe, laced with fentanyl, enbalming fluid or PCP."
Regan served as a member of Pennsylvania's House of Representatives from 2012-2016. During that time, he was one of the driving forces for the inception of the Commonwealth's current medical marijuana program. Regan's background in federal law enforcement as a former United States Marshal also gave him a first-hand look into the crucial aspects of the current drug wars in other countries.
"We see anywhere between $3 and $4 billion dollars annually go across the border into Mexico and to Columbia and into the source countries in supporting the worse criminals in history," he said. "[It] goes to organized crime and gangs [and] it's distributed. Then it's the kid selling it out of his car in a high school parking lot. I think it's naive to think it's not being widely used by everyone right now – people going to work, people driving, people going to school."
Although Regan has not officially introduced his proposed legislation, his efforts, along with other state legislators, have gained support.
"We have an opportunity to expand job creation, expand investment, and provide the state with some revenue, all the while decreasing costs for law enforcement and really correcting a lot of the wrongs that have been experienced by Pennsylvanians because of the war on drugs," said Meredith Buettner, the executive director for the Pennsylvania Cannabis Coalition.
Buettner says there are many misconceptions about marijuana, and the war on drugs left a negative impact on many – especially communities of color – due to cannabis arrests. She says any viable piece of legislation will help to account for social equity and social justice measures.
"If you're doing prison time for something that's now legal, a system put in place where you can get your record expunged and you'd be released from prison – I think that's another important part of it," said Regan.
While some are in support of legalizing recreational marijuana, family advocates say the Commonwealth needs to perform a greater assessment of its affect on the health and safety of all Pennsylvanians.
"What we should be talking about is the health and safety of Pennsylvania's children, Pennsylvania families [and] the next generation," said Dan Bartkowiak, the director of communications for the Pennsylvania Family Institute. "If that's our priority, it shouldn't matter whatever revenue numbers are projected. We want to help and keep Pennsylvania families safe."
Bartkowiak says more incentives should be in place for those who may oppose moving forward with legalizing recreational marijuana. This includes changing the proposed age for use from 21 to 25 and/or allowing communities to voice if they would like the drug to be sold on their properties.
Regan says legislators are continuing to work to finalize the proposed piece of legislation and hope to bring it to the Senate Law and Justice Committee by the end of May.