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PA Legislature Sees its First Bill to Fully Legalize Marijuana

Pennsylvania state Senator Daylin Leach (17th District - Montgomery & Delaware counties) has once again proven why he's entirely justified in proudly booking himself as "Pennsylvania's leading progressive state senator." After introducing legislation in the last two legislative sessions to legalize marijuana for medicinal uses only (which you can watch him speaking about here), Leach has now further upped the progressive ante by pushing for full legalization of marijuana for people 21 years of age and older.

State Senator Leach announced the legislation and took up an offensive posture to fight for it in an opinion piece titled "Legalize marijuana: We're locking up Pennsylvanians for no reason at great cost" published by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Here's Leach on that cost in both a personal and fiscal sense:

People across our commonwealth have spent time in prison, lost time at work, been forced to hire lawyers and had their lives disrupted and sometimes destroyed because they used a product less dangerous than beer, less risky than children's cough syrup, less addictive than chocolate and whose societal harm comes from its prohibition rather than its use.

According to the Office of National Drug Control Policy, in 2006, an average year, 24,685 marijuana arrests were made in Pennsylvania at a cost of $325.36 million. Each year we not only spend a similar amount, we leave several hundred million dollars on the table in taxes that we do not collect because marijuana is illegal rather than regulated and taxed. Aside from the moral issues involved, we simply can no longer afford the financial costs of prohibition.

(To put that number in some budgetary context, I recommend checking out the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center's excellent breakdown of Pennsylvania's spending this year, I'd prefer to not over-simplify the matter.)

He also gave some policy details:

Under the terms of my legislation, marijuana would be regulated, treated in a way similar to how alcohol is treated. It would still be illegal to drive under the influence of marijuana, behave badly while publicly intoxicated or to sell it to minors.
And he denounced Governor Corbett's dubious reason for opposing the legislation:
Gov. Tom Corbett said he opposed my bill because he "believes" marijuana is a "gateway drug." But science has clearly established that this is untrue. Well over 90 percent of those who use marijuana never go on to use harder drugs, and the percentage of people who do use hard drugs and had previously used marijuana is no higher than the percentage who had previously tried only beer.

Unlike alcohol, you cannot overdose on marijuana. Unlike alcohol and tobacco, marijuana is not physically addictive. Studies have shown that people on marijuana are much less likely to behave violently or recklessly than people who are drunk. And while breathing a hot gas into your lungs certainly isn't good for you, marijuana smokers on average smoke far less often than tobacco smokers. There is no way that marijuana ever could come close to killing the 1,100 people each day that tobacco does.

Despite this policy proposal facing insurmountable odds in the immediate future given the overwhelmingly Republican make-up of our current state government, state Senator Leach has said that, "It’s tough in the short-term. It’s inevitable in the long-term. Because of demographics and exposure to other states, the opposition to this is going to melt away very quickly. We’ve already reached the tipping point."

For more from the progressive pride of PA on his new legislation, you can check out an interview he did with KDKA Radio about it here.

And for my fellow Pennsylvanians, don't underestimate the impact of contacting your state senator and telling them you want them to support this legislation! You can look them up and find their contact information here.