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State Rep. Dave Delloso, D-162 of Ridley Township, speaks at the state Capitol Wednesday morning to discuss the potential economic effects of legalizing marijuana sales.

HARRISBURG — The economic benefits of proposed legislation to “free the weed” by state lawmakers was the main talking point at a Wednesday morning press conference to legalize marijuana and allow the state to oversee the selling of it for recreational use.

State Rep. Dave Delloso, D-162 of Ridley Township, was flanked with co-sponsors and other advocates of House Bill 1899, the legislation he introduced earlier this week that pushes Pennsylvania to join 10 other states to decriminalize the drug.

At present, Pennsylvania only allows for medicinal use of marijuana to be used.

Delloso’s bill would allow the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board to oversee sales of marijuana in its Fine Wine & Good Spirits stores. As with with alcohol sales, marijuana sales would be restricted to persons 21 and older.

It’s predicted that this could be a booming $1.6 billion industry and generate almost $600 million in revenue for the state’s general fund and create 18,000 new jobs (For comparison, state liquor sales through the LCB reached a peak of $2.6 billion in 2017-18 and employs approximately 5,300).

The revenues could be used for anything, but Delloso strongly focused on using it to fund education.

“As you knock on doors in Pennsylvania you’re going to find out two things: Young parents find their schools underfunded and older Pennsylvanians are crushed by the weight of school property taxes,” said Delloso at the press conference. “Cannabis sales in the state stores may be the answer for full funding and property tax relief.”

Despite consecutive state budgets under Gov. Tom Wolf’s leadership that have boosted education funding cumulatively by more than $1 billion dollars, Pennsylvania is near the bottom in the country for state contributions to public school funding.

“Now may be the only opportunity to find additional funding for the general fund that may result in a direct effect on our seniors and our children. This is something I kicked around on the campaign (his first run for representative in 2018) and when you talk to Pennsylvanians, even those who aren’t crazy about the idea about making cannabis legal, they are crazy about full funding of schools and property tax relief,” said Delloso. “A state store system that can protect our youth, properly distribute (marijuana) and educate is the way to go in Pennsylvania.”

Delloso, a union man with Teamsters Local 312, wants to keep state control over the marijuana market to keep the good union jobs afforded to state liquor store employees. It's something he says big corporations will not provide.

The safety of the state store employees to not sell to underage minors was also noted by the bill’s supporters. Liquor Control Board Spokesman Shawn Kelly didn’t say how many underage violations occurred in the past year, but said employees perform more than one million identification checks each year and are trained to prevent sales to minors.

In an analysis of the prospect to decriminalize marijuana use, the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center looked at the social and economic impacts of adult-use cannabis in states like Colorado, which legalized the drug in 2015. The PBPC’s report shows that tourism in Colorado reached $1.2 billion from 82 million out-of-state visitors in 2016. About half of all visitors said recreational marijuana influenced their decision to visit the state.

“As more states legalize marijuana, we will likely see these benefits wane – but the fact remains that those interested in obtaining legal marijuana would seek out travel to Pennsylvania if we were to legalize marijuana, resulting in increases in tax revenue as well as the other economic benefits from tourism,” reads a portion of the report.

More revenue is expected from marijuana sales as opposed to cigarettes in the Rocky Mountain state by 2020.

On top of the windfall to state coffers, the state may save $20 million in criminal justice costs for prosecuting low-level marijuana possession cases. From a social and criminal justice reform standpoint, this will break down a system that had African Americans in the state arrested at a rate over three times greater than whites for possession even though usage is equal between them.

The infamous war on drugs that started approximately 30 years ago was a sweeping national move to arrest people for small amounts of drugs and incarcerate them for as long as decades. A majority of the incarcerated were African Americans.

“No bill for the legalization of cannabis should come forward without including or being accompanied by legislation that talks about social justice remedies who were adversely affected by the war on drugs,” said House Minority Whip Rep. Jordan Harris, D-186 of Philadelphia, “How do we incentivize and encourage those who have been harmed by the prohibition being a part as workers and owners?”

The collateral damage for such an arrest impacts many facets of a person’s life, according to Andy Hoover of the Philadelphia branch for the American Civil Liberties Union.

“The Commonwealth is spending tens of millions of dollars annually to enforce a policy that does great harm to peoples’ lives for no public gain,” he said.

Municipalities throughout the state have created their own ordinances to decriminalize possession of small amounts or to lower the criminal grade of such a charge.

House Bill 1899 would take out Section 13(a)(30) and (31) in the state’s controlled substances act to, respectively, repeal the manufacturing with intent to deliver charge and repeal possession charge of small amounts (no more than 30 grams) of marijuana. Additionally, the bill would expunge those charges from a person’s record and release those incarcerated on those charges to be released.

The proposed bill would also remove tetrahydrocannabinols and “marihuana” as schedule I drugs under the controlled substances act.

The state’s Democratic leaders, including the governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general, are all in favor of legalizing marijuana. Views from the Republican-held House where the bill originates were different.

“Please know that as Speaker of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, I am decidedly opposed to the legalization of recreational marijuana,” wrote speaker of the House Rep. Mike Turzai, R-28 of Allegheny County, in a press release Wednesday. He included a list of articles from The New York Times, The Atlantic and other publications that report on the dangers of marijuana.

The state House GOP caucus released a statement on Sept. 25 after Gov. Wolf announced his support to legalize recreational marijuana use, saying in part that the medical marijuana program (sales started last year) is still in its infancy.

“Promoting recreational use of marijuana sends a terrible and misleading message to the many Pennsylvanians who are beginning to utilize cannabis-derived medicines to treat illnesses,” read the release. “This call comes at a time when the General Assembly is considering many serious issues of statewide importance, many at the behest of the administration. These include election machine funding, reducing violent crime, expanding educational opportunities and growing a robust economy. Calling on the Legislature to act now on marijuana legalization serves only as a distraction from the important work lawmakers carry out in Harrisburg and in their home districts.”

When asked if the bill will be a hard sell to his Republican colleagues, Delloso referred back to education funding and how marijuana sales will be a way to provide property tax relief.

Revenue from marijuana sales come from excise taxes in the amount of 10 percent tax on a marijuana cultivation facility (but not if it partners with a state farm to grow or process the cannabis) and 19 percent on marijuana or marijuana products. State and local sales taxes still apply.

Marijuana is still a federally designated schedule I drug. The U.S. Department of Justice in early Jan. 2018 said it would continue to enforce the federal ban on the drug even in states that have legalized it. This was a reversal from the Obama administration that laxed such enforcement.

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