(The Center Square) — The Pennsylvania General Assembly has spent a lot of time in committee meetings discussing whether to legalize recreational marijuana, but federal holdups may matter more than state-level action.

Even if state politicians strike a deal to approve recreational use, federal prohibition — and the risk that follows — causes trouble for marijuana-related businesses and private citizens.

Though Pennsylvania’s medical marijuana program has existed since 2016, its operation depends, to a certain extent, on federal law enforcement declining to prosecute users.

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One issue that complicates legalization relates to the Second Amendment. The Department of Justice continues to argue in federal court that medical marijuana patients should be barred from owning guns because it is “​​dangerous to trust regular marijuana users to exercise sound judgment,” as a recent filing in Florida demonstrated.

Gun owners who use marijuana, for medical or recreational purposes, are liable to federal prosecution. As the law stands, possessing a medical marijuana card makes it unlawful for Pennsylvanians to apply for a license-to-carry firearm.

Beyond the Second Amendment, banking and insurance issues linger. 

Marijuana-related businesses cannot access the banking system due to the risk of federal penalties. The problem is serious enough that the National Conference of State Legislatures announced a policy change to support cannabis banking reform. While the General Assembly has seen some proposed bills to expand banking and insurance access for cannabis businesses, state law does not supersede federal law.

Impaired driving and worker safety have also been roadblocks. Sen. Judy Ward, R-Hollidaysburg, has warned of the risks in the workplace with impaired employees operating heavy machinery, as The Center Square previously reported

State law classifies any driver as impaired with any trace of cannabis in their system, even though marijuana users can test positive days after smoking or ingesting a substance. In June, a bill was introduced in the General Assembly to change the law, but it awaits action in the Senate Transportation Committee.

Despite the lingering problems, state political leaders have expressed support for legalization.

Gov. Tom Wolf supports legalizing recreational marijuana. “You want to #LegalizeIt. I’ve said I’ll sign it into law,” Wolf tweeted in August. “But first, we need the legislature to get a bill to my desk.”

Like Wolf, Democratic gubernatorial nominee Josh Shapiro also supports legalizing marijuana. However, Republican nominee Doug Mastriano has called it “a stupid idea.”

Not all Republicans oppose recreational legalization.

Sen. Mike Regan, R-Dillsburg, has been a vocal proponent of legalization. “In the simplest of terms, our choices are between safe or unsafe; tested or untested; age controlled or available to all; and tax revenue or criminal gain,” Regan, who chairs the Senate Law & Justice Committee, wrote in an op-ed. “And that is why I have come to my current belief that we must legalize adult-use marijuana, also known as cannabis — to protect our communities.”

Federal marijuana legalization would simplify some issues on the state level. A federal bill to do so has been proposed by Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-NY, but it’s unlikely to pass in the current session.

Despite the challenges, a significant majority of Pennsylvanians support legalization for recreational use. 

The potential tax revenues have attracted the attention of Republican legislators. Some estimates predict the commonwealth could see $5 billion or $6 billion annually if it were to legalize marijuana. Public support and the economic potential may spur the General Assembly into action despite the risks and problems that remain. 

Anthony Hennen is a reporter for The Center Square. Previously, he worked for Philadelphia Weekly and the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal. He is managing editor of Expatalachians, a journalism project focused on the Appalachian region.

This article was republished with permission from The Center Square.

13 thoughts on “Federal law complicates recreational marijuana legalization in Pennsylvania”

  1. “Despite the challenges, a significant majority of Pennsylvanians support legalization for recreational use. ”

    DATA please? Footnotes please? Vetted info please?

    I don’t buy that. Sounds like FAKE news.

    “And that is why I have come to my current belief that we must legalize adult-use marijuana, also known as cannabis – to protect our communities.” M. Reagan

    Somebody give that man the “stupid comment” award of the year.

      1. Right.. and you referring to ABC news as a legit, vetted source is what?

        Oh yeah, also

        S t u p i d

        Mama always said, stupid is as stupid does!

        1. I agree. Where are the actual vetted polls? I am skeptical that a majority of Pennsylvanians support recreational legalization. Philadelphia snd Harrisburg are not typical of the Commonwealth on this issue. It’s exactly the same legerdemain they use when saying most Americans support legalized abortion. The fact is, a majority want strict restrictions on both “activities,” namely abortion and recreational drug use. Proponents of both present the data favorable to them but it’s not reflective of the nuance of the issue.

          1. To add to what user: “me” stated. Not only here in PA but through the US how many reported deaths do we have from cannabis use? Compare this to the number of hit and runs, car accidents, acts of violence that alcohol users are commonly involved in. How would this be any different?

          2. Lol. Funny how the only polls right wingers are skeptical of are the ones that challenge the narrative they’ve been fed by fox news. As soon as a poll shows a Republican up in a race, it’s all of a sudden trust worthy.

        2. Lol who do you trust? Fox news? Oan? You see the footage of right wing darling, the very trust worthy Alex Jones on the stand the other week? Hahaha

      2. You can show right wingers as many facts from as many sources as you want. If it doesn’t fit the fox news narrative they won’t listen.

    1. Dear LJ; if you had any idea about the lies and other unwholesome thoughts and deeds that went into the banning of legal cannabis in the early 20th century, you might rethink your stance. I am 100% with Regan.

  2. So let me get the GOP’s narrative straight – when it comes to getting vaccinated against a contagious virus that’s killed over a million Americans the government has no business making regulations.

    But when it comes to how people want to unwind at the end of the day, on their own, we need the government to send Americans to prison for not making the politician approved decision.

    The cognitive dissonance of the regressive right never ceases to amaze me.

  3. I don’t see or understand why recreational use for adults would have a negative impact for the state? The benefits are too great for it not to happen. The job market increases, the tax revenue and so on. We’re talking billions annually, and I for one would to see most of that go to schools and our infrastructure!

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