Though Republicans in Pennsylvania long opposed recreational marijuana, lawmakers have come around in order to fix sizable budget deficits.
The Tri-State area is among the U.S. regions most ravaged by the coronavirus pandemic. The United States has more than 1.6 million cases and nearly 100,000 deaths, according to reports by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). But more than 500,000 cases and 45,000 deaths come from New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania alone.
The pandemic has had a disastrous impact on these state economies and lawmakers have turned to an unlikely savior to increase tax revenue — marijuana.
Last week, a group of New York State Sens. implored Gov. Andrew Cuomo and lawmakers to legalize recreational cannabis to make up the $13 billion deficit the state currently faces. Pennsylvania also faces a sizable budget deficit, as the state has lost more than $4 billion in tax revenue since the start of the pandemic. While Pennsylvania Democrats have typically led the charge on legal cannabis, Republican state lawmakers have begun discussing the possibility to close the significant loss in revenue.
“Given the pandemic and the fiscal problems that the state is facing, people who may not have formerly considered recreational marijuana as a revenue generator may be brought to the table,” said State Sen. Dan Laughlin, a Republican, told the Philadelphia Inquirer.
“I fully believe that recreational marijuana is going to be one of the pieces of revenue that is certainly discussed in the budget cycle. It absolutely will be,” added Laughlin. “I’m not a big fan of marijuana, but I also know there’s not a kid or adult in America that couldn’t find a bag of weed if they wanted it.”
Worry is mounting about where the state will cut resources, as schools already lack funds and roads need repairs, the Inquirer reports. Not only could legal marijuana boost tax revenue, it would also remove the money the state spends prosecuting cannabis cases. The possible solution has Republican lawmakers, who have previously unified in opposing adult-use marijuana, reconsidering new bills in the GOP-controlled Pennsylvania House and Senate.
“It’s a whole new world here. So everything is on the table,” Republican State Sen. Tom Killion said. “Historically, there’s been a few people pushing for recreational marijuana use, but never a groundswell in the [Republican-controlled] House and Senate.
“I can tell you as a member of the Appropriations Committee, it’s nothing we’ve talked about yet,” he continued. “But this time around, you’re going to hear everything discussed.”
Harper Polling reported last month more than 60% of Pennsylvania voters favor recreational marijuana legalization. Among those who consider themselves “very conservative” or “somewhat conservative,” 54% supported full legalization.
“It’s inevitable, so why not get ahead of the curve and do it now,” Charlie Gerow, Quantam Communication CEO and conservative Republican strategist, told the Inquirer. “The tax dollars will have more leverage if legislators move to legalize it sooner. What’s keeping them back?”