In Lancaster, concerns about legal marijuana’s impact on kids meets fierce libertarian spirit

By: - March 18, 2019 8:59 pm

The Lancaster stop on Lt. Gov. John Fetterman’s legal marijuana listening tour (Capital-Star photo).

LANCASTER — Lt. Gov. John Fetterman’s recreational marijuana listening tour landed Monday night in Lancaster, where county residents concerned about cannabis’ impact on kids met legalization proponents who expressed a strong libertarian spirit.

“I’m 57 years old,” one man told Fetterman and Lancaster County state Reps. Mike Sturla, a Democrat, and Mark Gillen, a Republican. “I don’t need the government to tell me what to do.”

The audience of hundreds in downtown Lancaster’s Ware Center included at least one man in a Make America Great Again hat and another in a “Fuck Donald” T-shirt. Opinions on legalization were about as divergent.

People who specialize in addiction — including Eric Kennel, the executive director of the addiction prevention nonprofit Compass Mark — said they fear legalizing marijuana will lead to addiction issues for adolescents exposed to the drug.

“We don’t need another legalized substance damaging our youth,” Kennel said. He also cited a study by Colorado Christian University’s conservative Centennial Institute that found for every one dollar in revenue legal marijuana brought in, it cost the state $4.50 to “mitigate its effect.”

Boulder Weekly called that study “junk science,” while those in the cannabis industry told Vail Daily they doubt the results.

And therein lies a major issue with the debate over marijuana legalization in Pennsylvania. For every anecdote or study cited about pot’s harm, there was another that offered information to the contrary.

“You go to 17 different places for information, you get 17 different answers,” a man in favor of legalization said.

For liberty and justice

Fetterman is and has been in favor of legalizing marijuana for some time. Gov. Tom Wolf, also a Democrat, has spoken against legalization but is a proponent of medical marijuana and decriminalization.

The latter was a popular stance Monday.

Some of the people who spoke in favor of legalization, including a former public defender from neighboring Lebanon County, said they do not believe it should be a crime to smoke or possess marijuana.

“Disproportionately, this affects brown and black people,” the former public defender said.

Even people who spoke against marijuana legalization, including Kennel, said they were in favor of decriminalization.

READ MORE: In the Coal Region, a debate over whether marijuana legalization will hurt or help opioid crisis

State Rep. Ed Gainey, D-Allegheny, plans to introduce a bill that would “downgrade the possession of a small amount of marijuana from a misdemeanor to a summary offense,” according to information from his office. Gainey has advanced similar bills, including one to study the issue, in the past with no success.

Supporters of recreational marijuana are pushing ahead with a bill of their own. Senate lawmakers on Monday unveiled a plan to allow private use of marijuana and expunge criminal records related to cannabis use. In the House, Rep. Jake Wheatley, D-Allegheny, has already introduced his own version of legalization.

The tour continues

For people who can’t attend an in-person event, there’s an online feedback form. As of March 12, more than 21,000 people had weighed in online about marijuana legalization, according to Wolf’s office.

The listening tour continues Tuesday in York County:

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Sarah Anne Hughes
Sarah Anne Hughes

Associate Editor Sarah Anne Hughes covers the governor and Pennsylvania's agencies. Before joining the Capital-Star, she was the state capitol reporter for Billy Penn and The Incline, and a 2018 corps member for Report for America. She was previously managing editor of Washington City Paper, editor-in-chief of DCist, and a national blogger for The Washington Post.