Editorial: Wolf ignores DePasquale, writes off marijuana legalization

Editorial: Wolf ignores DePasquale, writes off marijuana legalization

Gov. Tom Wolf speaks in July 2015 at Bellefonte Area High School. Wolf spoke last week dismissing the auditor general's suggestion to legalize marijuana. (Nabil K. Mark/Centre Daily Times/TNS)

The Pitt News Editorial Board

March 13, 2017

Pennsylvania was hardly a leader in the push for medicinal marijuana — it was the 24th state to legalize the drug for medicinal purposes — but now some are pushing for the Keystone state to blaze the trail for recreational use.

State Auditor General Eugene DePasquale encouraged the legalization of recreational marijuana in Pennsylvania at a press conference last Monday. In addition to pointing out the large financial benefits that could come from taxing the drug, DePasquale also cited the job growth and reduced cost in arrests the change would bring to the Commonwealth.

But Gov. Tom Wolf shut down the notions later in the week, saying the Commonwealth is not yet ready for legal marijuana and that the revenue from taxing the drug would bring in to PA isn’t enough to make a difference in the multi-million dollar budget deficit.

“[DePasquale’s] calculation I think had [the estimates at] about $200 million. We have a $3 billion deficit, so that’s not going to help,” Wolf told KDKA. With a hole that size, the governor isn’t in any position to be turning down easy money.

And even worse, he shouldn’t be falling back on his default answer of slowing down and testing out before implementing new legislation, like he’s been known to do. Pennsylvania needs cash now, so when an easy answer — in the form of taxable drugs — to our financial prayers presents itself, and comes packaged with a recommendation from the chief fiscal officer of the state, we should take advantage of it.

And we’ve seen how the legalization is profitable for other states as well. Colorado made $129 million in taxes and fees in 2016 alone and Washington raked in more than $250 million in taxes from July 2014 to 2016. And as DePasquale pointed out, the marijuana decriminalization law in Philadelphia lessened marijuana-related arrests from more than 2,800 in 2014 to 969 in 2016 and saved the city more than $4 million, according to the RAND Corporation.

Marijuana legalization is not the first issue that Wolf has stalled on addressing. When the governor finally signed the legalization of medical marijuana into law in April 2016, it was a heralded example of bipartisan teamwork. But let us not forget it took two and a half years for such a change to make its way through state politics and into the lives of our residents. And when the state finally implemented stricter fracking regulations in October 2016, it was only after years of legislative battles dating back to 2011.

The reality is that this has become the norm for Pennsylvania state politics — legislators wait, consider, deliberate and create task forces, but they take little action.

As Pennsylvania often shifts between red and blue — notably in this recent election — this is understandable: state legislators have a politically diverse constituency to answer to. But Wolf’s platform when he ran for governor in 2014 was progressive. He promised to tax natural gas and restructure PA’s tax system but has yet to be wholly successful on either count.

So now is the time for him to take a firm stance: legalize recreational marijuana and show us he can make tough, but ultimately helpful, decisions. Marijuana is relatively harmless when compared to other drugs, the potential for jobs and tax income is tremendous, it’s already legal in eight states and Washington, D.C. and, simply put, people like it. But what’s more worrisome in this matter is the state’s and the governor’s overwhelming familiar tendency to halt progress for the sake of unnecessary caution.

Wolf couldn’t ask for a prettier, neater decision. His administration is busy closing prisons, consolidating state departments and charging citizens for police protection all in efforts to help close the deficit. But instead of collecting the tax revenue from a potential legalization, Wolf is waiting for even more numbers on how legal marijuana will affect other states.

“I think Pennsylvania would do right to see what happens in Colorado, Oregon, Washington —  some of the other states, because they all have different approaches to this,” said Wolf to KDKA days after the DePasquale statement. But we don’t need to see what happens — we already know.

And if proof from other states isn’t enough, then the knowledge and advice for the state’s auditor general should be.

For the sake of the state, the fiscally concerned and pot smokers alike, we urge you, Gov. Wolf, to stop with the hesitation.


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