Lt. Gov. John Fetterman offers ‘safe space’ for opinions on legalizing marijuana

By: and - February 11, 2019 8:11 pm

A speaker addresses Lt. Gov. John Fetterman and Rep. Patty Kim (Capital-Star photo).

HARRISBURG —  Just a few miles from the Capitol, Lt. Gov. John Fetterman offered Pennsylvanians a “safe space” to speak their minds about legalizing recreational marijuana.

“I pledge civility and an open platform,” the Democrat said Monday at the Jewish Federation of Greater Harrisburg, adding that he imagined people for, against, and undecided on the idea were in attendance. “Every one of those viewpoints is going to be respected tonight.”

The event, attended by more than 100 people, was the official launch of a 67-county listening tour Fetterman is undertaking to gather input on the possibility of legal weed in Pennsylvania.

Gov. Tom Wolf has emphasized that the listening tour is just that: an opportunity to hear what Pennsylvanians’ think.

And overwhelmingly, they think marijuana should be legal.

Of the dozens of people who got up to share their views Monday, the vast majority said they are in favor of recreational marijuana. Some spoke about their experience with pain or opioids. A few detailed their dealings with law enforcement and the damage that marijuana charges have done to them financially and personally.

Michael told the Capital-Star he was charged with a felony for possessing a quarter of an ounce of marijuana three years ago. He paid about $10,000 in legal fees and said he’s worried about accessing financial aid when he goes back to school.

“It still sticks with me. It makes life hard for me,” he said. “I didn’t harm anyone.”

Others said there were in favor of the revenue legal weed could bring in for the commonwealth. According to the Auditor General’s office, legalizing recreational marijuana could raise $581 million annually.

The handful of people who spoke to oppose recreational marijuana cited potential harm on children and shared anecdotes about negative experiences in Colorado, which legalized pot in 2012. One man said he was concerned about his granddaughter sharing the road with people who are under the influence.

The path to legal weed in Pa.

Fetterman supports legalizing recreational weed. Wolf, in the past, has not.

But in December, the governor said it was time for a “serious and honest look at recreational marijuana,” as neighboring New Jersey and New York move toward legalization. Wolf is a supporter of the state’s medical marijuana program.

In the House, Rep. Jake Wheatley, D-Allegheny, has introduced a bill that would tax recreational marijuana and use the revenue to benefit education and affordable housing. Dozens of Democrats — but zero Republicans — have signed on to co-sponsor the legislation.

In the Senate, Daylin Leach, D-Montgomery, and Sharif Street, D-Philadelphia, plan to introduce similar legislation soon.

Republican leaders, whose support is needed to advance any legislation, are currently opposed to legalizing marijuana. Majority Leader Jake Corman, R-Centre, has called the idea “reckless.”

Have your voice heard

Just one Dauphin County lawmaker appeared with Fetterman on Monday: Democrat Rep. Patty Kim. According to the lieutenant governor’s office, all representatives and senators from the county were invited to attend.

“I am open to hearing about any ideas that could offer recurring revenues,” Kim said.

Want your voice to be heard? Below are more announced tour dates. Check Fetterman’s Facebook page for future events.

You can also submit comments online.

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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.