House Repubs again snuff out Wolf’s calls for recreational cannabis legalization

Gov, Tom Wolf (R) and Lt. Gov. John Fetterman (L) call on Pa. lawmakers to legalize recreational marijuana during a press conference at Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency headquarters in Dauphin County, Pa., on 9/3/20 (Capital-Star photo by John L. Micek)

With millions of dollars in potential tax revenue on the line, and multi-billion dollar hole in the state’s finances, Gov. Tom Wolf on Thursday upped the pressure on the Republican-controlled General Assembly to legalize recreational cannabis.

“Now, more than ever, especially right in the middle of this pandemic, we have a desperate need for the economic boost that cannabis can provide,” Wolf said during a news conference at the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency’s headquarters in suburban Harrisburg.

“The Legislature has failed to find the time,” to move a trio of legalization bills out of committee and to hold votes, Wolf said Thursday. “This is something that affects millions of Pennsylvanians. And it can provide revenue at a time when we desperately need revenue.”

The answer from the GOP? No thanks.

“There is just not the support in the caucus for legalizing marijuana right now,” Jason Gottesman, a spokesman for House Majority Leader Kerry Benninghoff, R-Centre, told the Capital-Star on Thursday.

On Thursday, Wolf, joined by Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, and state Sen. Sharif Street, D-Philadelphia, said the estimated $600 million in revenue gleaned from legalization could be used for, among other things, grants to minority-owned businesses and to pay for undoing the criminal justice harms done by decades of prohibition.

“We believed it was time [to do this] before the pandemic hit,” said Fetterman, who held a 67-county listening tour on legalization in 2019.  “And now that it has hit, and we have these budgetary shortfalls, I would challenge anyone to come up with a better way” to come up with the revenue.

Wolf included legalization in a shopping list of fall priorities he rolled out late last month. Republicans opposed the plan then.

“I don’t know what he [Wolf] thinks has changed in the last two weeks,” Gottesman told the Capital-Star on Thursday.

Republicans have repeatedly faulted Wolf for “negotiating by press conference,” and on Thursday, Wolf acknowledged that he couldn’t remember the last time he’d had a face-to-face meeting with GOP leaders. He maintained that conversations between senior staff were ongoing.

Gottesman reiterated a Republican complaint that Wolf has proposed using future tax revenue gleaned from legalization for new programs, instead of filling a roughly $3.2 billion hole that the COVID-19 pandemic has ripped in the state’s bottom line.

“The governor is standing at a podium shouting orders at us for the fourth time in a month,” Gottesman groused.

On Thursday, Fetterman insisted the door was open.

“We’re inviting Republicans to the table,” he said.

John L. Micek
A 3-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's Editor-in-Chief. An award-winning political reporter, Micek’s career has taken him from small town meetings and Chicago City Hall to Congress and the Pennsylvania Capitol. His weekly column on U.S. politics is syndicated to 800 newspapers nationwide by Cagle Syndicate. He also contributes commentary and analysis to broadcast outlets in the U.S., Canada and the U.K. Micek’s first novel, “Ordinary Angels,” was released in 2019 by Sunbury Press