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

The Lancaster stop on Lt. Gov. John Fetterman's legal marijuana listening tour. (Capital-Star photo by Sarah Anne Hughes)

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:


  1. :::”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.””

    This is a report by the Colorado Christian University’s Centennial Institute.

    This report is nothing more than a propaganda piece. It does not even attempt to measure changes in cannabis use due to legalization. They assume that all current cannabis use is due to legalization. Coloradians, like the rest of the U.S., have been using cannabis long before legalization.

    Some of the many flaws in the report are discussed here:

    “Laughable but Widely Cited Report on the Cost of Legalizing Pot Does Not Even Try to Measure the Cost of Legalizing Pot

    “For every dollar gained in tax revenue,” the Centennial Institute claims, “Coloradans spent approximately $4.50 to mitigate the effects of legalization.”

    One of the biggests “costs” they claim is increased droputs, expulsions, and suspensions due to legal cannabis. This has not been observed. In fact there have been less droputs and less drug related expulsions:

    Colorado School Dropout Rate:
    2011-2012: 2.9% (12,256 dropouts reported)
    2012-2013: 2.5% (10,664 dropouts reported)
    2013-2014: 2.4% (10,546 dropouts reported)
    2014-2015: 2.5% (11,114 dropouts reported)
    2015-2016: 2.3% (10,530 dropouts reported)
    2016-2017: 2.3% (10,421 dropouts reported)
    2017-2018: 2.2% (10,180 dropouts reported)
    [SOURCE: Colorado Department of Education – Dropout Data for 2011-16 – Historical Overview]

    Colorado School Drug Expulsions:
    2011-2012: 718
    2012-2013: 614
    2013-2014: 535
    2014-2015: 446
    2015-2016: 142
    2016-2017: 97

    Colorado School Drug Violators Referred to Law Enforcement:
    2011-2012: 1,951
    2012-2013: 1,921
    2013-2014: 1,823
    2014-2015: 1,160
    2015-2016: 311
    2016-2017: 232

    Colorado School Drug Suspensions:
    2011-2012: 4,561
    2012-2013: 4,319
    2013-2014: 4,714
    2014-2015: 4,529
    2015-2016: 1,579
    2016-2017: 1,006

    [SOURCE: Colorado Department of Education – 10-Year Trend Data: Colorado State Suspension and Expulsion Incidents]

  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. It should be the cornerstone of current GOP policy.


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