Federal law complicates legalization efforts in Pennsylvania
Republicans in Pennsylvania have their reservations about legalizing recreational marijuana in the state, and those hesitations can be largely explained by the federal government’s classification of cannabis as a Schedule I substance under the Controlled Substances Act. Republican leadership is concerned about the impact that recreational marijuana will have on businesses (such as dispensaries) and private citizens.
Medical marijuana has been around in Keystone State since 2016, but dispensaries doing business in Pennsylvania – as in any other state – are unable to benefit from private banking options thanks to the federal prohibition. This leads to frequent robberies because criminals understand that dispensaries are “Cash-Only” businesses. The state’s medical marijuana program also largely relies on the hope that federal prosecutors will refuse to prosecute users.
Furthermore, the Department of Justice continues to argue that any patient of a medical marijuana program should be barred from owning guns because it is, “dangerous to trust regular marijuana users to exercise sound judgment,” according to a recent filing. In Pennsylvania, medical marijuana cardholders are prohibited from applying for a concealed carry permit, and Republicans in Harrisburg fear that legalizing recreational marijuana will disarm even more law-abiding Americans.
Pennsylvania’s legislature is currently controlled by the GOP, while the office of the Governor is held by Democrats Tom Wolf and Lt. Gov. John Fetterman. Both Wolf and Fetterman have publicly backed efforts to legalize recreational marijuana, but are unable to do so without a bill first produced by the legislature. Many Republicans in Harrisburg are holding until the federal prohibitions at the federal level are lifted.
As we know, President Joe Biden is unlikely to be the American president who ends the war on cannabis. He vocally opposed legalization on the campaign trail, citing a lack of research, and has not shifted his position since. His promise to decriminalize marijuana has yet to be upheld, though his administration is going through extraordinary lengths to release WNBA star Brittney Griner from a Russian prison, where she is being held for smuggling cannabis vapes into the country.
The future of marijuana at the federal level remains unclear, and Pennsylvanians will likely not see any progress from the legislature until action is taken in Washington.