By Mark O’Keefe
Gov. Tom Wolf needs to take off his rose-colored glasses and face reality.
In a recent interview with KYW Newsradio in Philadelphia, Wolf said Pennsylvanians would “like to see some movement” on legalizing marijuana.
While it’s true that a recent Franklin & Marshall poll showed 59 percent of Pennsylvanians support legalizing recreational marijuana, up from 22 percent a decade ago, Republican leaders in the Pennsylvania Legislature remain overwhelmingly opposed to the change, thus guaranteeing there will be no “movement” on the issue at least for now.
Wolf, of course, has to know this. He has to realize since Republicans control both chambers in the Legislature, GOP leaders can kill any bill supporting legalizing recreational marijuana before it even comes up for a vote.
And he certainly should know that GOP leaders have been firm about not legalizing recreational marijuana.
“I don’t think there’s any chance this passes this session. I will do whatever I can as a leader to not allow it to happen this session,” state Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman, R-Centre, said.
“Legalizing federally prohibited drugs is not a top priority” for the House either, Mike Straub, a spokesman for House Majority Leader Bryan Cutler, R-Lancaster County, told PennLive recently.
House Minority Leader Frank Dermody, D-Allegheny, has said that as long as marijuana remains illegal under federal law, “Pennsylvania should stay on the sidelines,” WITF-FM reported.
“Dermody also feels it’s important for the federal government to remove cannabis from the list of Schedule 1 drugs so that the industry can function more freely within the law,” his spokesman, Bill Patton, told the station.
Maybe Wolf thinks it’s time to legalize recreational marijuana given the widespread support it received on Lt. Gov. John Fetterman’s listening tour. Fetterman held meetings in all of the state’s 67 counties, inviting people to comment on the issue.
While his final report hasn’t been written yet, Fetterman, an outspoken advocate of legalizing marijuana, said there was widespread support for legalization even in some rural areas controlled by Republican.
“I want to be clear: some very conservative counties. I would peg that support as a little bit higher based on the rooms and our online feedback,” he said.
However, while a majority of people in those meetings did speak in favor of legalization, GOP lawmakers in some of those areas had different opinions.
Republican representatives Rob Kauffman (89th District), Paul Schemel (90th District), Jesse Topper (78th District) and John Hershey (82nd District) together released a statement criticizing Fetterman’s “listening tour.”
“We recognize this event for what it is: cover to push an agenda of legalizing drugs. Rep. Hershey already experienced this firsthand when he attended a ‘listening tour’ in Juniata County at the lieutenant governor’s invitation. We believe this tour is a sham and we decline to be a part of it,” read the statement.
The lawmakers said that despite the growing acceptance of marijuana for medicinal purposes, “incontestable research and experience shows recreational use to be dangerous, especially among our youth.” The statement pointed to a correlation of marijuana use with the use of harder drugs and irresponsible consumption of alcohol, and said Colorado, where recreational marijuana has been legal since 2014, has seen an increase in DUIs, school suspensions and road fatalities.
One crucial factor in whether legalization happens or not could be the opioid crises facing the state. Many people at Fetterman’s meetings contended that marijuana was much safer in controlling pain than opioids. However, many other people contended that marijuana was a gateway drug which eventually led to the deaths of friends and relatives who later switched to harder drugs.
Perhaps over time, GOP legislative leaders will change their views on this issue. Or maybe they’ll be replaced by lawmakers who are more supportive of legalization. But any such action will take a long time, if it ever occurs.
Whatever happens, though, it’s extremely unlikely that there will any “movement” on this issue in the near future.
And it’s hard to believe that Gov. Wolf doesn’t see that even through his rose-colored glasses.
Opinion contributor Mark O’Keefe, of Mechanicsburg, Pa., is the former Editorial Page editor of the Uniontown Herald-Standard. His work appears frequently on the Capital-Star’s Commentary Page.