State Senator Daylin Leach knows he is fighting an uphill battle to win legalization of marijuana for adult use in Pennsylvania. But Leach is confident that the need for new state revenue will convince his colleagues in the state legislature that the time is ripe to change Pennsylvania’s position on marijuana prohibition.
“I think revenue from taxing legal and medical marijuana will drive this issue just like revenue drove approval for gambling,” Leach said.
“Remember, 40 years ago only one state had gambling. Now 48 states including Pennsylvania have gambling. What drove approvals of gambling was the money to be made by the states.”
California, for example, generates annual sales tax revenues of up to $105-million from medical use of marijuana, according to the California State Board of Equalization. That Board estimated that California could gain $1.4-billion in new revenue annually from the legalization of marijuana.
Colorado, which began sales of marijuana for non-medical adult use on New Year’s Day this year, collected $6.17-million in tax revenue during January and February alone. Officials in Washington State, which beings adult use marijuana sales in July, project receipt of $190-million in taxes and fees annually.
“Between new tax revenue and saving money now spent on enforcement we could have $500-million per year,” Leach said. “Imagine what we can do with that.”
Pennsylvania spent $100.7-million enforcing marijuana possession laws in 2010, according to a June 2013 ACLU study titled “The War on Marijuana in Black and White.” Pennsylvania is one of six states and the District of Columbia with the largest racial disparities in marijuana possession arrests, according to that ACLU report. Blacks are 5.1 times more likely than whites to be arrested for marijuana possession in Pennsylvania.
Leach, a State Representative turned State Senator, is the sponsor of marijuana-related bills pending in the State Senate seeking the legalization of marijuana for adult use and approval of marijuana for medical use under supervision of a physician.
This lawyer/politician, who relishes taking on “interesting issues as a legislator,” acknowledged that people are frightened by the negative images on marijuana tied to sustaining state and federal prohibition.
“We have gotten incredible push-back on legalization. Why? Because we have a fear of the word marijuana,” Leach said.
“Legalization opponents just see a pot-head but the average marijuana smoker today looks more like Dick Cheney than Jimi Hendrix. People that I know who use marijuana have jobs and families.”
Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett, a former prosecutor and state attorney general remains firm in his stance against legislation calling for legalization of marijuana in any capacity – medical or adult recreational use.
Jay Pagni, a spokesman for Corbett, said, “The Governor’s stance has not changed. He is still opposed to legalization even for medical purposes. That said, he empathizes with patients and families, and his opposition does not dismiss that empathy.”
While Corbett and Leach have expressed strong views on opposite sides of the marijuana divide, most state legislators — including liberals — are taking a backseat on the issue. Even the state’s Attorney General has yet to articulate a definite viewpoint.
Joe Peters, a spokesman for AG Kathleen Kane, said, “Generally speaking, she is against legalization and is looking across the nation at other states to see what they are doing related to medical marijuana and its efficacy. It’s a hard thing to comment on.”
Senator Leach sees the lack of comments from legislators as indicative of the tendency of many politicians to refrain from engaging in discussion about extremely controversial issues.
“I can’t tell you how many of my colleagues have privately supported my bill but will refuse to do so in public,” he said. “Support for marijuana legalization is viewed as one side of a cultural issue.”
The Pennsylvania Senate has yet to take votes on any of Leach’s proposed legislation.
The medical marijuana-related bill that Senator Leach has introduced is a measure he believes all should support.
Republican State Senator Mike Folmer is co-sponsoring this medical marijuana legislation, making it the first marijuana bill to be sponsored by both Republicans and Democrats in Pennsylvania. While there is bi-partisan sponsorship, bi-partisan support is not yet widespread.
Leach, referring to claims that any legalization of marijuana will lead to increased abuse of that drug or other drugs, said that slippery-slope theory doesn’t hold up. A recent Yale University study found that out of most hard drug users, 34% had tried marijuana. However, 56% had tried alcohol, and 57% had tried tobacco.
“Some heroin users smoke cigarettes,” Leach noted. “Did cigarettes cause the heroin addiction? No!”
Leach said legislation of marijuana is like battles waged over marriage equality and interracial marriage.
“It’ll hit a tipping point and accelerate,” Leach said.