Sen. Mike Regan: I’m still making up my mind on legalizing recreational cannabis | Opinion

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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.

5 COMMENTS

  1. RE: Gateway Drug

    It’s not any particular substance. Drug abuse has much more to do with personality, genetics, and who people associate with. Use of any “gateway” drug is linked to a greater likelihood of hard drug use in the future, including alcohol, tobacco, and caffeine, which are generally used before cannabis. The gateway drug “theory”, that a unique pharmacological effect of cannabis causes the use of hard drugs, has been discredited many peer reviewed studies that have examined it.
    [Joy et al. 1999; Morral et al. 2002; Cleveland HH & Wiebe RP. 2008; Reissig et al. 2008; Wen et al. 2014; Tristan et al. 2012; Tarter et al. 2006; Van Gundy K & Rebellon CJ. 2010; Vanyukov et al. 2012; Barry et al. 2016]

    Putting cannabis in the underground market further exposes its consumers to hard drugs. This is like going to a beer distributor who also sells opioids, cocaine, and meth. Also, when people realize that they were for the most part lied to about the negative effects of illegal cannabis, respect for all laws, especially drug laws, is eroded. This further increases the likelihood of experimentation with other illegal drugs.

    Given an interest in recreational substances combined with a willingness to try illegal substances, cannabis is predictably, due to its popularity, the first illegal substance encountered. This does not mean that cannabis caused later drug use, cannabis use was simply a result of the same influencing factors as illegal hard drug use. The “gateway theory” is a simple observation of a typical sequence and has little to no utility in reducing drug abuse. A recent extensive review concluded that: “The promotion of the erroneous gateway theory ultimately does the public a disservice, including the hindering of intervention.” [Vanyukov et al. 2012]

  2. Americans don’t have to like cannabis, but they should hate its prohibition. This prohibition law strikes at the very foundation of our society. It is a tool of tyrants, used to violate core American beliefs and nearly every aspect of the Bill of Rights.

    A populace that accepts and becomes accustom to overreaching government policies, such as the prohibition of relatively safe, popular substances, becomes more accepting of overreaching, powerful government in general. This devastates America, not a plant that has been used by mankind since the beginning of recorded history.

    Those who believe in limited government, personal responsibility, free markets, and individual liberty should embrace the ending of this irrational, un-American, fraudulently enacted cannabis prohibition experiment. It should be the cornerstone of current GOP policy.

    Federal studies show about half of the U.S. population has tried cannabis, at least 15% use it regularly, over 80% of high school seniors have reported cannabis “easy to get” for decades. This prohibition, like alcohol prohibition has had little of its intended effect. In many cases cannabis prohibition makes cannabis usage problematic where it would not have been otherwise, be it light, moderate, or heavy usage. For the most part, cannabis prohibition only successfully prohibits effective regulation.

    A few issues created by prohibition: there are no quality controls to reduce contaminants (harmful pesticides, molds, fungus, other drugs), there is no practical way to prevent regular underage sales, billions in tax revenue are lost which can be used for all substance abuse treatment, underground markets for all drugs are empowered as a far more popular substance is placed within them expanding their reach and increasing their profits, criminal records make pursuing many decent careers difficult, police and court resources are unnecessarily tied up by pursuing and prosecuting victimless ‘crimes’, public mistrust and disrespect for our legal system, police, and government is increased, which is devastating our country.

    Prohibition is also very expensive, though, a cash cow for a number of powerful groups such as those related to law enforcement and the prison industry. These organizations have powerful lobbies and influence that perpetuate a failed drug policy through ignorance, fear, disinformation and misinformation. This ensures an endless supply of lucrative contracts, grants and subsidies from the government and its taxpayers to support their salaries, tools of the trade, ‘correctional’ services, and other expenses. Cash, property and other assets from civil forfeiture laws also significantly fatten their coffers while often violating civil rights.

    America was built on the principles of freedom and liberty. In some cases there are extreme circumstances that warrant intervention with criminal law. In the case of mind-altering drugs we have already set this precedent with alcohol. Cannabis is less harmful than alcohol to the consumer and especially to others. If we are to have justice, then the penalties for using, possessing and selling cannabis should be no worse than those of alcohol.

    Regardless of legal status, a large market for cannabis will continue to exist as it has for decades. Either the underground controls the market and profits from it, or the state does…all while ending their assault on our citizens. Let’s end this costly, futile attempt to eradicate a plant that a majority of Americans believe should be legal.

    • I believe you’re referring to the video in the story. That’s Sen. Sharif Street, whom Sen. Regan mentions in his op-Ed. He’s the sponsor of the Senate bill that would legalize recreational cannabis. Thanks – John Micek, Editor

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