(The Center Square) — Though some politicians treat recreational marijuana in Pennsylvania as an inevitability, others remain skeptical.

They warn that the social costs of drug use don’t disappear – and a legalized industry brings problems of its own.

Still, elected officials consider reforms even if they oppose legalization.

Rep. Paul Schemel, R-Waynesboro, has been an opponent of recreational use, but has proposed a bill to change marijuana possession from a misdemeanor to a summary offense.

The idea is aligning law with reality: many district attorneys across Pennsylvania rarely prosecute possession charges unless someone is caught with significant amounts.

“In my conversations with DAs and judges, all of them have said no one’s going to prison for possession of small amounts of marijuana,” Schemel said. “Reducing the offense, making it a summary offense, if there’s an issue with policing where there’s these transactions in public places, it still gives police a tool to use to move those things out of the streets, but not be so punitive.”

Marijuana legalization won’t eliminate the need for policing, however. Schemel noted that states with recreational use still have illicit sales that will require restrictions. In some cases, he argued, those states have seen an increase in policing surrounding marijuana in the illegal market.

Schemel sits on the House Health Committee, which has held a series of meetings on legalization, from Canada’s experience to criminal justice concerns to how to regulate the drug.

Schemel emphasized that post-legalization, places have had to deal with a rise in societal harms from marijuana use and a rise in overall usage rates.  

“Marijuana’s used broadly in the United States, but in places that have legalized, by the process of legalizing you normalize. All of this data supports that usage goes up,” Schemel said. “Does anyone think — even if you think smoking a joint now and again is fine — does anyone think that the daily use of marijuana is good?”

Though Republicans are divided on whether legalization is a good idea, Democrats seem to split into two camps for legalization: one exemplified by Gov. Josh Shapiro to legalize it and drive tax revenue, and another that would sell recreational marijuana through something like Pennsylvania’s state-owned stores that control alcohol sales, similar to the status quo in Quebec.

The French Canadian approach may provide revenue to deal with the social costs of drug use, but a tax revenue maximalist approach could have unintended consequences. In the vice industry, the pattern has been that what starts out small continues to grow.

“I was not in the legislature when they passed casino gambling, but when they did, they said this is gonna be very limited, there are only a few sites, very carefully regulated,” Schemel said. “But the industry continues to come back, saying we’re generating money for you, but we’re starting to lose money. So we need more sites, we need more licenses, we need more of everything.”

Lobbyists also demand that legislators come down on competitors, like skill games, he noted.

“There’s always mission creep,” Schemel said. “We passed medical marijuana; as soon as it was passed, it became very loose, but the industry’s come back to us many times saying we need to do more things. The same will happen if we legalize recreational marijuana. The industry will tell us we’ll have carefully guarded restrictions, but it’ll be mission creep: More ability to market, more ability to sell products, higher THC. That’s what always happens.”

And when political leaders expect those tax revenues to fund different programs or balance the budget, the pressure to give in to lobbying grows.

“Be careful of the state becoming financially dependent upon addictive behaviors,” Schemel said. “Most people go into a casino, they enjoy blackjack, then they leave and they had a good time — but it’s not an insignificant number of people at the casino who go in alone, sit at the stool, and spend the little money they have at a slot machine. Is that good for society? The state rationalizes this because, if we don’t do it, we’re missing out on this tax revenue. We’ve become financially dependent on an industry that we know does harm to people.”

Though careful not to equate marijuana to alcohol and gambling, he emphasized the dynamics that come into play when business concerns creep in.

“Every other state that legalized recreational marijuana, they’ve always had these careful controls that over time are diminished so that the industry can have more ability to sell,” Schemel said. “We’re willing to gloss over the harms and the people harmed because we’re pursuing something else — in this case, purely financial.”

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.

11 thoughts on “Changing tide of legalized marijuana too fast for some”

  1. There is absolutely no doubt now that the majority of Americans want to completely legalize cannabis nationwide. Our numbers grow on a daily basis.

    The prohibitionist view on cannabis is the viewpoint of a minority and rapidly shrinking percentage of Americans. It is based upon decades of lies and propaganda.

    Each and every tired old lie they have propagated has been thoroughly proven false by both science and society.

    Their tired old rhetoric no longer holds any validity. The vast majority of Americans have seen through the sham of cannabis prohibition in this day and age. The number of prohibitionists left shrinks on a daily basis.

    With their credibility shattered, and their not so hidden agendas visible to a much wiser public, what’s left for a cannabis prohibitionist to do?

    Maybe, just come to terms with the fact that Cannabis Legalization Nationwide is an inevitable reality that’s approaching much sooner than prohibitionists think, and there is nothing they can do to stop it!

    Legalize Nationwide!…and Support All Cannabis Legalization Efforts!

    Fear of Cannabis Legalization Nationwide is unfounded. Not based on any science or fact whatsoever. So please prohibitionists, we beg you to give your scare tactics, “Conspiracy Theories” and “Doomsday Scenarios” over the inevitable Legalization of Cannabis Nationwide a rest. Nobody is buying them anymore these days. Okay?

    Furthermore, if all prohibitionists get when they look into that nice, big and shiny crystal ball of theirs, while wondering about the future of cannabis legalization, is horror, doom, and despair, well then I suggest they return that thing as quickly as possible and reclaim the money they shelled out for it, since it’s obviously defective.

    The prohibition of cannabis has not decreased the supply nor the demand for cannabis at all. Not one single iota, and it never will. Just a huge and complete waste of our tax dollars to continue criminalizing citizens for choosing a natural, non-toxic, relatively benign plant proven to be much safer than alcohol.

    If prohibitionists are going to take it upon themselves to worry about “saving us all” from ourselves, then they need to start with the drug that causes more death and destruction than every other drug in the world COMBINED, which is alcohol!

    Why do prohibitionists feel the continued need to vilify and demonize cannabis when they could more wisely focus their efforts on a real, proven killer, alcohol, which again causes more destruction, violence, and death than all other drugs, COMBINED?

    Prohibitionists really should get their priorities straight and/or practice a little live and let live. They’ll live longer, happier, and healthier, with a lot less stress if they refrain from being bent on trying to control others through Draconian Cannabis Laws.

    1. Brian, why are you trying to switch focus from marijuana to alcohol? It is akin to saying we should legalize “B” because “A” is already legal, and “A” it is far more terrible than “B.” Well, “B” is still bad so what’s your point other than to distract from focus on discussion of “B?” Also, in all of your comments you sidestep actual content and valid facts which prove widespread use of cannabis is not good for society – especially young people – and instead focus on discrediting individuals, diverting attention from main points, and seemingly getting emotional.

  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6461328/
    March 2019 – The number of Americans who use cannabis heavily is soaring. In 2006, about 3 million Americans reported using the drug at least 300 times a year, the standard for daily use. By 2017, that number had increased to 8 million—approaching the 12 million Americans who drank every day. Put another way, only one in 15 drinkers consumed alcohol daily; about one in five marijuana users used cannabis that often. In the 1970s, most marijuana contained less than 2% THC. Today, marijuana routinely contains 20–25% THC, thanks to sophisticated farming and cloning techniques, and to the demand of users to get a stronger high more quickly. In states where cannabis is legal, many users prefer extracts that are nearly pure THC.
    Research from Finland and Denmark, two countries that track mental illness more accurately [than the U.S.], shows a significant increase in psychosis since 2000, following an increase in cannabis use. In September 2018 a large survey found a rise in serious mental illness in the U.S. too. In 2017, 7.5% of young adults met the criteria for serious mental illness, double the rate in 2008. Where are we now in 2024?

    1. In Reply to Michael Sweeney,

      Utter BS. Your comment is Reefer Madness Anti-Cannabis-Legalization prohibitionist rhetoric and government spoon-fed propaganda. Are you seriously trying to reference and quote an N.I.H, a vehemently adamant anti-drug, anti-cannabis-legalization government organization that has been intentionally misinforming the public and spreading prohibitionist propaganda for about 70 years? Nobody should take anything N.I.H nor any other government, law enforcement nor anti-drug organization says about cannabis as valid nor credible. Since thees are the same organizations that have been lying to the public about cannabis ever since prohibition was first enacted. Therefore they have no credibility whatsoever because they are biased and have an obvious anti-cannabis-legalization prohibitionist agenda to push on the general public.

      Legalize federally now. What’s legal to possess and consume in over half of the populated areas of The United States should not make you a criminal in states still being governed by woefully ignorant prohibitionist politicians.

      Cannabis consumers in all states deserve and demand equal rights and protections under our laws that are currently afforded to the drinkers of far more dangerous and deadly, yet perfectly legal, widely accepted, endlessly advertised and even glorified as an All-American pastime, alcohol.

      Plain and simple!

      Legalize Nationwide Federally Now!

      What we certainly don’t need are anymore people who feel justified in appointing themselves to be self-deputized morality police.

      We are very capable of choosing for ourselves if we want to consume cannabis, a far less dangerous choice over alcohol, and we definitely don’t need anyone dictating how we should live our own lives.

      We can’t just lock up everyone who does things prohibitionists don’t personally approve of.

      If I were you and worried so much about “saving all of us” adults from ourselves, well then, I’d begin with the deadliest drug. Which causes more broken homes, domestic violence, and traffic fatalities than all other drugs, combined. That most dangerous and deadly drug is alcohol.

      Yet alcohol remains perfectly legal, widely accepted, endlessly advertised, even glorified as an All American pastime.

      Why doesn’t the much more prevalent, far more widely abused, use of alcohol concern you much more than marijuana which is a relatively benign drug when compared to all other ones?

      Protesting the legality of booze should be your number one priority if you are truly so concerned about “saving us all” from ourselves.

      “Cannabis is 114 times safer than drinking alcohol”

      “Cannabis may be even safer than previously thought, researchers say”

      “Cannabis may be even safer than previously thought, researchers say New study: We should stop fighting Cannabis legalization and focus on alcohol and tobacco instead By Christopher Ingraham February 23

      Compared with other recreational drugs — including alcohol — Cannabis may be even safer than previously thought. And researchers may be systematically underestimating risks associated with alcohol use.

      Those are the top-line findings of recent research published in the journal Scientific Reports, a subsidiary of Nature. Researchers sought to quantify the risk of death associated with the use of a variety of commonly used substances. They found that at the level of individual use, alcohol was the deadliest substance, followed by heroin and cocaine.”
      -Washington Post

      “The report discovered that Cannabis is 114 times less deadly than alcohol. Researchers were able to determine this by comparing the lethal doses with the amount of typical use. Through this approach, Cannabis had the lowest mortality risk to users out of all the drugs they studied. In fact—because the numbers were crossed with typical daily use—Cannabis is the only drug that tested as “low risk.”
      -Complex

  3. The argument that every restriction/prohibition proposed for cannabis is the fantasy of some retrogressive prohibitionist a la Carrie Nation is the argument used tosupport morphing hard drugs into unrestrained usage. Just take a look at Oregon’s experiment with hard drugs; how’d that work out for them? Regardless, I believe it is commonly recognized that cannabis has serious mental and physical downsides, someone buzzed on cannabis is just as dangerous behind the wheel as someone buzzed on alcohol. I do know from a personal perspective that I would not want my cardiac surgeon to have a couple of dobies before opening my chest. For me, the real question is, with the enormity of our national problem with drugs and addition, why do we want to add to it by making yet another drug easily obtainable and, in essence, normalizing it. Fair disclosure: I’m not a Toker, but I am not a rabid abolitionist.georgeandtat@hughes.net

    1. Legalizing Cannabis will not create a massive influx of marijuana impaired drivers on our roads.

      It will not create an influx of professionals (doctors, pilots, bus drivers, etc..) under the influence on the job either.

      This is a prohibitionist propaganda scare tactic.

      Truth: Responsible drivers don’t drive while impaired on any substance period!

      Irresponsible drivers are already on our roads, and they will drive while impaired regardless of their drug of choice’s legality.

      Therefore, legalizing cannabis will have little impact on the amount of marijuana impaired drivers on our roads.

      The same thing applies to people being under the influence of cannabis on the job.

      Responsible people do not go to work impaired, period. Regardless of their drug of choice’s legality.

    2. Infinitely more workers end up impaired at work, calling out of work or in a stupor because of alcohol than cannabis.

      Why doesn’t alcohol concern you much more than relatively benign cannabis? It should.

      Legalizing cannabis will not create a massive influx of cannabis impaired employees in our workplaces.

      It will not create a huge influx of professionals (doctors, pilots, bus drivers, etc..) under the influence on the job either.

      This is a prohibitionist propaganda scare tactic.

      Truth: Responsible workers don’t go to work while impaired on any substance period!

      Irresponsible employees already share our workplaces, and they will work while impaired regardless of their drug of choice’s legality.

      Therefore, legalizing cannabis will have little to zero impact on the amount of marijuana impaired employees in our workplaces.

      Responsible people do not go to work impaired, period. Regardless of their drug of choice’s legality.

      Cannabis consumers in all states deserve and demand equal rights and protections under our laws that are currently afforded to the drinkers of far more dangerous and deadly, yet perfectly legal, widely accepted, endlessly advertised and even glorified as an All American pastime, booze.

      Equal rights and protections as alcohol drinkers in our workplaces and everywhere else.

      Plain and simple!

      Legalize Cannabis Nationwide Federally Now!

    3. Let’s not intentionally try to alarm and worry the public about legalizing “all drugs” right now.

      Because that concept is often used as a scare-tactic by prohibitionists. In an attempt to frighten the public away from cannabis legalization. By clumping cannabis legalization in with the legalization of other drugs, which typically the public finds far more scary and dangerous than relatively benign, often healing cannabis.

      Cannabis is just about the safest drug out there. Legal or not, and much less dangerous than perfectly legal, widely accepted, endlessly advertised, often glorified alcohol consumption.

      Which makes cannabis legalization unique, and certainly a much different, and far more urgent matter than the legalization of “all drugs” right now.

      Let’s not lose focus on the real issue at hand here. Cannabis, the only currently illegal recreational drug that is much safer than perfectly legal alcohol.

      Legalize Cannabis Federally Nationwide Now!

  4. Dating back to a 1987 Swedish study finding that soldiers who had used cannabis more than 50 times had an increased risk of developing schizophrenia, this pot-psychosis correlation has been confirmed repeatedly in years since by a surprising number of respected studies. For instance, in 2019, Lancet Psychiatry published a study of 901 Europeans ages 18 to 64 who were diagnosed with their first episode of psychosis. Researchers found that daily cannabis use was associated with three times the risk of psychosis — a likelihood that grew to five times with “daily use of high-potency types of cannabis” (defined as products with more than 10% of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, which is increasingly dominant in the U.S. as well, according to a recent potency analysis: “New trends in cannabis potency in USA and Europe during the last decade (2008-2017” Suman Chandra, Mohamed M Radwan, Chandrani G Majumdar, James C Church, Tom P Freeman, and Mahmoud A ElSohly.)

    It’s especially this high-potency cannabis and synthetic cannabinoids which carry the greatest risk. A 2015 study of the same high-intensity “skunk-like cannabis” in 410 individuals showed roughly a three-times increased risk of psychotic disorder in users compared with those who never used the drug. That’s the connection that keeps coming up in studies, even when adjusting for early symptoms of schizophrenia, parental psychosis and other substance use, as a 2018 British Journal of Psychiatry study confirmed.
    The risks are also not explained by genetic predisposition.

    These findings have been confirmed with multiple methodologies — case control studies, epidemiological studies, long-term observational studies and even “studies of studies.” Many of these studies also find a dose-response relationship, such as a 2009 study of 280 individuals in the British Journal of Psychiatry that found “people with a first episode of psychosis had smoked higher-potency cannabis, for longer and with greater frequency.”

    And age is also a significant factor, as one research team summarized: “All of the negative aspects are magnified if use starts in early adolescence.” Another researcher found “acute psychotic-like symptoms were positively associated with age of first cannabis use.” And in an especially well-controlled study, researchers found a uniquely impaired “inhibitory” process in adolescents using marijuana, as well as a reduced ability to feel “satiety” — both of which lead to the greater likelihood of pursuing higher potency useage.

    Some have wondered, if cannabis was somehow contributing to psychosis, why wouldn’t we see an increase in this mental health condition? This is precisely what the 2019 European study confirmed, providing compelling evidence that cities with more easily available and commonly used high-THC weed (London, Paris and Amsterdam) had, in fact, a statistically significantly higher rate of new diagnoses of psychosis compared to other cities in the study.

    Research from Finland and Denmark, two countries with uniquely accurate tracking systems for mental illness, also show a significant increase in psychosis since 2000, following an increase in cannabis use.

    All this underscores why, for so many mental health professionals, the cavalier and casual attitude of many American political and community leaders toward cannabis is striking.

    1. In the prohibitionist’s world, anybody who consumes the slightest amount of cannabis responsibly in the privacy of their own homes are “stoners” and “dopers” that need to be incarcerated in order to protect society.

      In their world, any cannabis use equates to cannabis abuse, and it is their God given duty to worry about “saving us all” from the “evils” of cannabis use.

      Who are they to tell us we can’t choose cannabis, the safer choice instead of alcohol for relaxation, after a long, hard day, in the privacy of our own homes?

      People who consume cannabis are smart, honest, hard working, educated, and successful people too, who “follow the law” also.(except for their cannabis consumption under it’s current prohibition of course) .

      Not the stereotypical live at home losers prohibitionists make them out to be. They are doctors, lawyers, professors, movie stars, and politicians too.

      Several Presidents of The United States themselves, along with Justin Trudeau, Bill Gates, and Carl Sagan have all confessed to their cannabis use. As have a long and extensive list of successful people throughout history at one point or other in their lives.

      Although that doesn’t mean a dam thing to people who will make comments like “dopers” and “stoners” about anybody who uses the slightest amount of cannabis although it is way safer than alcohol.

      To these people any use equals abuse, and that is really ignorant and full of hypocrisy. While our society promotes, advertises, and even glorifies alcohol consumption like it’s an All American pastime.

      There is nothing worse about relaxing with a little cannabis after a long hard day than having a drink or two of alcohol.

      So come off those high horses of yours. Who are you to dictate to the rest of society that we can’t enjoy cannabis, the safer choice over alcohol, in the privacy of our own homes?

      We’ve worked real hard our whole lives to provide for our loved ones. We don’t appreciate prohibitionists trying to impose their will and morals upon us all.

      Has a cannabis consumer ever forced you to use it? Probably not. So nobody has the right to force anybody not to either.

      Don’t try to impose your morality and “clean living” upon everybody else with Draconian Cannabis Laws, and we won’t think you’re such prohibitionist hypocrites.

      Legalize Nationwide! Support Each and Every Cannabis Legalization Initiative!

  5. “we’re coming, we’re coming, our brave little band, on the right side of temperance we do take our stand. We never eat fruitcake because it has rum, one little bite turns a man to a bum. Can you imagen a sorrier sight? Than a man eating fruitcake until he gets tight.” Not my lyrics but from a group in the 1950s. ALL addictive substances need control, otherwise we could have free and easy fentanyl to a greater degree than currently. That is a substance often used in conjunction with cannabis, as to cannabis being a gateway drug, ask a relative sample of addicts what their gateway was.

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