Commentary

It’s time for more than a cannabis conversation in Harrisburg, it’s time for action | Opinion

Cannabis prohibition has never been about the plant itself, these are laws against people, a tool of our own government’s institutional racism

George Armstrong, a veteran and medical marijuana recipient shares his experiences. (Capital-Star photo by Cassie Miller.)

By Jeff Riedy

Cannabis is again on the tongues of Pennsylvania lawmakers. Though cannabis is now fully legal in New York and New Jersey, this year the plant has become a political football in Pennsylvania. While more than 20,000 people get arrested on simple weed possession charges across the Commonwealth every year, politicians from both parties are still bickering about the introductory language of no less than four legalization measures.

When the concept of regulating cannabis was first proposed in Harrisburg back in 1983 by Milton Street, it seemed completely radical and for more than three decades Pennsylvania was happy to blindly run a pointless war on weed.

Suddenly in 2016, state Republicans and Democrats banded together (for a brief moment) and passed a somewhat limited medical cannabis law. And while state lawmakers delay, we’ve seen more than 20 Pennsylvania cities adopt decriminalization ordinances. Yet, we remain entrenched in prohibition overall, a seemingly more extreme position every year.

Today, medical marijuana – as a therapy and a corporate business model – is part of the fabric of life in Pennsylvania. Hundreds of thousands of residents have registered for cannabis cards. Billions have changed hands for the operating permits. Still, while lawmakers – both Blue and Red – are more than happy to use the prospect of full legalization as a campaign fundraising strategy, we haven’t seen any tangible progress on reform.

This year, 2021, has seen more talk than ever, but zero action. Surely the fully documented reality of cannabis’ nationwide acceptance has changed politicians’ minds. No doubt, lawmakers must be inspired by witnessing a burgeoning Cannabis Industry taking hold on Pennsylvania’s borders.

Every legislative draft includes rolling the current medical cannabis permits into the new adult-use program. On the surface this appears a logical decision to include experienced operators. But, if we want justice reform and wish to establish equity within a new marketplace, then the consolidated cartel of out-of-state cannabis corporations holding all of Pennsylvania’s medical cannabis permits may actually be a barrier to those goals.

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Any registered cannabis patient in Pennsylvania would likely doubt the sincerity of all the proposed bills.  Pennsylvania’s Medical Cannabis Program has deep inadequacies that should not be extended into adult-use laws. An over-regulated, overpriced “legal” market never gets people to participate.

Cannabis prohibition has never been about the plant itself, these are laws against people, a tool of our own government’s institutional racism.

Since Altoona, Pa. native Harry Anslinger’s Marijuana Tax Stamp Act passed Congress in 1937 to President Richard Nixon’s establishment of the federal Controlled Substances Act in 1970, cannabis consumers and medical marijuana patients have been driven into the closet. After decades of oppression, our community is weary of the ongoing ignorance about this policy, especially while so many states have found an alternative.

National and local surveys of voters continue to reflect overwhelming support for legalization. Cannabis consumers are no longer asking for permission, instead we are demanding REAL reform at the ballot box. Politicians who make grand promises of cannabis reform should be on notice to start making good, or start looking for jobs in the private sector.

Adult cannabis consumers are entitled to the same respect and graces as alcohol consumers. For instance, the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board currently sets no limit on the amount of beer or spirits one can possess. Since cannabis is far safer than alcohol, considering possession limits seems disingenuous.

As an advocate I’ve been asked for input many times from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle. So far, they are missing the mark for comprehensive change.

Consumers and patients deserve respect, not a pittance. We deserve a full stop to the discrimination that we endure in our workplaces, in our homes, and in our gardens. Sadly, the only language I’ve seen has protected the ability for employers and landlords to extend some of the worst practices.

Pa. Sen. Regan proposes legalizing adult-use cannabis to fund State Police, community programs

Let’s be completely clear about what we want: Clean, laboratory tested cannabis grown by locally owned Pennsylvania farms at an affordable price; the ability to grow at home; the security of extended legal reforms; the justice of knowing that our weed money and taxes are truly investing in our community and not being flushed out of state into a cartel of slick corporations.

What we don’t want: Seeing the benefits of legalization go to the police, heavy limits on possession amounts, high prices, high taxes, big corporations, and anything that sends our money out of our communities.

We continue to hear politicians at the podium, declaring their support for watered-down cannabis reform. However, today it’s time for more than a cannabis conversation in Harrisburg, it’s time for real action.

Jeff Riedy is the executive director of  Lehigh Valley NORML.

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