By Mike Regan
On March 28, my local paper, The Dillsburg Banner, published an unsigned Letter to the Editor entitled, “Close the gate on this gateway drug” imploring me to oppose the yet-to-be introduced Senate Bill 350, which calls for the legalization of recreational marijuana.
Additionally, my office has received calls incorrectly characterizing my position by stating that I support the legalization of recreational marijuana because of the potential tax revenue and because states like New York and New Jersey are pursuing legalization.
With regard to Senate Bill 350, the legislation has not officially been introduced yet. The prime sponsors, Democratic Sens. Daylin Leach, of Montgomery County, and Sharif Street, of Philadelphia, have circulated a co-sponsorship memo outlining the general concept of their proposal.
While there are aspects that are very concerning, let’s be honest, the ask is not for me to oppose Senate Bill 350; What is being asked of me is to oppose the legalization of recreational marijuana.
I have taken a cautiously open-minded approach, and I can understand why some individuals have misinterpreted things I have said on the issue.
Mainly, I have expressed the need for Pennsylvania to be proactive because we will be dealing with the repercussions of legalization in places like New York and New Jersey without the tax revenue to address them. Our residents will no doubt be crossing the border to buy marijuana as they do to buy less expensive gas and alcohol.
As a retired U.S. Marshal, I am inclined to be against legalization because of my background in law enforcement.
However, the truth of the matter is, law enforcement – from local police to District Attorneys to Federal DEA agents – are not bringing charges against people for possession of personal amounts of marijuana. This is due to the overwhelming amount of time and money that was being dedicated by both law enforcement and our courts to marijuana cases.
Instead, our law enforcement officers are focused on drug cartels and the murders that occur within the drug trafficking industry. Additionally, we are seeing an increase in dangerous synthetic forms of marijuana and the possibility of fentanyl being mixed with marijuana as it has been with heroin and cocaine – all occurring due to the illegal, unregulated nature of the marijuana trade.
As an elected state senator representing roughly 250,000 Pennsylvanians, it is my responsibility to gather input from my constituents and to do research on an issue of this magnitude. I have my staff looking at states that have legalized recreational marijuana and its legal, social, and economic impacts in those states. If I am going to be opposed, it is going to be an educated decision – not one based on emotion.
One concern that has been raised with regard to legalization of recreational marijuana is the possibility of people driving under the influence and how testing for such would be done during a traffic stop. This, along with the concern for increased DUI related accidents, are very much factors that I am taking into account as I continue to research this issue.
Of equal concern to me is our fledgling medical marijuana industry. I was and continue to be a strong advocate for medical marijuana. Not a week goes by that I don’t get a tap on the shoulder by someone to thank me for supporting the legalization of medical marijuana – from the mother with the daughter that has epilepsy whose seizures have diminished to the disabled veteran who has experienced significant pain relief.
Clearly, this new form of medicine is working, and I have reservations about how legalization of recreational marijuana could detract from and negatively impact a young industry that the Commonwealth is still working to fully get up and running.
Chapter 20 of the Medical Marijuana Act has yet to be implemented by the Pennsylvania Department of Health. This was the marquee aspect of the legislation that was to set the gold standard for medical marijuana in Pennsylvania by having the Commonwealth’s medical schools partner with licensed growers and dispensaries to conduct and develop a body of research.
Ensuring full implementation of the Medical Marijuana Act is a top priority for me before we take steps to legalize marijuana – if that is the route that Pennsylvanians want to go, and polls continue to show growing support.
So, overall, I have not closed the door – or the gate, as the letter-writer noted – on legalization of marijuana. It is a major issue being discussed across Pennsylvania and in our neighboring states, so regardless of stance, we all have to be part of the conversation and must look at the big picture.
State Sen. Mike Regan, a Republican, represents the 31st Senate District, which includes parts of Cumberland and York counties. He writes from Harrisburg.