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.