In first-ever hearing on legalizing cannabis, House GOP focuses on Pa. gun owners

marijuana

In what was likely the first hearing on recreational cannabis in Pennsylvania House history, Republican lawmakers on Monday focused on the potential risk to gun owners who might partake.

Marijuana is still a federally scheduled narcotic, meaning an individual cannot, under federal law, legally own a gun and use cannabis. The federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives established the policy in 2011 letter to federal firearm sellers.

“I think that is one of the lesser known issues,” Judiciary Committee Chairman Rob Kauffman, R-Franklin, said after the hearing.

He added that as “Pennsylvania is an extraordinary state when it comes to gun ownership and Second Amendment rights,” residents would likely want to know more before the commonwealth considers legalization.

A 2015 study from Boston and Columbia universities estimated that 27.1 percent of Pennsylvanians were gun owners, two percentage points less than the national average.

The impact of cannabis use for gun owners would not be a new issue for Pennsylvania, which made marijuana available to some medical patients in 2018.

Dave Arnold, Lebanon County’s district attorney, said patients at the moment must choose between using cannabis and having a gun. A representative from the state’s Sheriffs’ Association testified Monday that not having access to Department of Health records interferes with a sheriff’s ability to issue concealed carry permits.

Monday’s hearing also served as an opening salvo from the House GOP in the growing debate over cannabis legalization in Pennsylvania — a debate at least partially fueled by Lt. Gov. John Fetterman’s recently completed listening tour.

Speaking to the Capital-Star in May after the journey ended in Philadelphia, Fetterman estimated that somewhere around two-thirds of Pennsylvanians backed legalizing cannabis for personal use.

The 67-county tour hit the entire state in less than 100 days, and took input from tens of thousands of state residents.

“We had good participation across the board. And as was always the case, if there was a legislator or even a commissioner who felt really strongly [that] they wanted to speak and share their views, it’s like, here’s the microphone,” Fetterman told the Capital-Star. “It was very open in that regard. There wasn’t anybody that participated that left that meeting saying like, ‘wow, I really felt like you steered the conversation.'”

Kauffman said Monday’s hearing was not timed to coincide with the end of Fetterman’s sojourn, calling it “happenstance.”

The hearing included law enforcement, as well as representatives from gun rights and gun control groups. They mostly balked on giving an opinion on marijuana legalization, but explained that the existing conflict between state and federal law would create issues for gun owners.

Adjacent issues, such as how to conduct effective field sobriety tests with a driver suspected of using cannabis, were also raised. Some lawmakers used the hearing as a platform to express their concerns over legalization in general.

Kauffman said Monday’s hearing is just the start. Consideration of a legalization bill from Rep. Jake Wheatley, D-Allegheny, could mean deep dives into the impact on human service spending or the Liquor Control Board — which would manage the program per the legislation’s language.

“I think there’s going to be a lot more discussion and conversation over the next few years prior to acting on any of those pieces of legislation,” Kauffman said.

Wheatley told the Capital-Star he liked the angle of the hearing and hopes it will help convince Republicans to support legalization.

In response to Second Amendment concerns, the veteran legislator said he is preparing a letter to Democratic Attorney General Josh Shapiro asking him to challenge the federal government’s interference with the gun rights of Pennsylvania citizens who have a medical cannabis card.

“Why should our residents be burdened with the fear that the feds are going to somehow make it illegal to own and bear arms when in our state we said it’s legal?” Wheatley said.

But Wheatley isn’t on board with Kauffman’s proposed years-long timeframe for legalization.

With legislation in Congress to reschedule marijuana or limit federal regulation, Wheatley said Pennsylvania should be pushing forward with a solution that fits the state.

“All it takes is leaders willing to lead,” Wheatley said. “It shouldn’t take a year.”

8 COMMENTS

  1. 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 experiment. It should be the cornerstone of current GOP policy.

    Federal studies show about half of the U.S. population has tried cannabis, at least 15% use it regularly, over 80% of high school seniors have reported cannabis “easy to get” for decades. This prohibition, like alcohol prohibition, has had little of its intended effect. In many cases cannabis prohibition makes cannabis usage problematic where it would not have been otherwise, be it light, moderate, or heavy usage. For the most part, cannabis prohibition only successfully prohibits effective regulation.

    A few issues created by prohibition: there are no quality controls to reduce contaminants (harmful pesticides, molds, fungus, other drugs), there is no practical way to prevent regular underage sales, billions in tax revenue are lost which can be used for all substance abuse treatment and other programs, underground markets for all drugs are empowered as a far more popular substance is placed within them expanding their reach and increasing their profits, criminal records make pursuing many decent careers difficult, police and court resources are unnecessarily tied up by pursuing and prosecuting victimless ‘crimes’, public mistrust and disrespect for our legal system, police, and government is increased, which is devastating our country.

    Prohibition is also very expensive, though, a cash cow for a number of powerful groups such as those related to law enforcement and the prison industry. These organizations have powerful lobbies and influence that perpetuate a failed drug policy through ignorance, fear, disinformation and misinformation. This ensures an endless supply of lucrative contracts, grants and subsidies from the government and its taxpayers to support their salaries, tools of the trade, ‘correctional’ services, and other expenses. Cash, property and other assets from civil forfeiture laws also significantly fatten their coffers while often violating civil rights.

    America was built on the principles of freedom and liberty. In some cases there are extreme circumstances that warrant intervention with criminal law. In the case of mind-altering drugs we have already set this precedent with alcohol. Cannabis is less harmful than alcohol to the consumer and especially to others. If we are to have justice, then the penalties for using, possessing and selling cannabis should be no worse than those of alcohol.

    Regardless of legal status, a large market for cannabis will continue to exist as it has for decades. Either the underground controls the market and profits from it, or the state does…all while ending their assault on our citizens. Let’s end this costly, futile attempt to eradicate a plant that a majority of Americans believe should be legal.

  2. RE: Exit Drug

    Colorado and Washington State legalized recreational cannabis in Dec 2012. Legal sales began in Jan 2014 for Colorado, July 2014 for Washington.
    Clearly legal cannabis has not caused a surge in opioid deaths. It may have had a protective effect (as published studies support).

    Opioid Overdose Death Rate per 100,000 (age adjusted):

    National Average
    2012: 7.4
    2017: 14.9 (increased 101%)

    Pennsylvania (legal medical only, begun in 2018)
    2012: 6.8
    2017: 21.2 (increased 212%)

    Washington State
    2012: 9.7
    2017: 9.6 (decreased 1%)

    Colorado
    2012: 7.7
    2017: 10.0 (increased 30%)

    [SOURCE: Kaiser Family Foundation]

    Any Drug Overdose Death Rate per 100,000 (age adjusted):

    National Average
    2012: 13.1
    2017: 21.7 (increased 66%)

    Pennsylvania
    2012: 19.0
    2017: 44.3 (increased 133%)

    Washington State
    2012: 13.7
    2017: 15.2 (increased 11%)

    Colorado
    2012: 15.0
    2017: 17.6 (increased 17%)

    [SOURCE: Kaiser Family Foundation]

    Studies have shown that cannabinoids can help treat those addicted to hard drugs, prescription drugs and alcohol, and that it is an “exit drug” for some.

    This recent study found cannabis helped people stop using opioids completely in 59.3% of instances; another 18.4% reported reducing opioid use by at least 75%:

    “increased regulated access to medical and recreational cannabis can result in a reduction in the use of and subsequent harms associated with opioids, alcohol, tobacco, and other substances”
    [Lucas et al. 2019]

    Legal medical cannabis has been shown to significantly reduce deaths from prescription opioid painkillers by reducing opioid use:

    “States with medical cannabis laws had a 24.8% lower mean annual opioid overdose mortality rate compared with states without medical cannabis laws.” [Bachhuber et al. 2014]

    Many other studies also support the notion that cannabis can be used as an ‘exit drug’: [Boehnke et al. 2016; Gruber et al. 2018; O’Connell TJ & Bou-Matar CB. 2007; Wiese B, Wilson-Poe AR. 2018; Reiman A. 2009]

  3. RE: Driving

    Cannabis has been used by millions of American drivers for decades regardless of legalization.

    The claims of “cannabis being detected more frequently in drivers involved in crashes” are misleading. With an increase in cannabis usage in the general population, there will be a corresponding increase in detectable metabolite levels in drivers. These metabolites do not mean that drivers were high or impaired at the time of the crash, they can be detected days and weeks after cannabis usage. Also, drivers in accidents are being tested for cannabis metabolites more frequently, and testing has become more sensitive. Most drivers also had alcohol or other drugs in their system. Many reports mention this.

    In Colorado vehicle miles traveled and population also increased, so has tourism (which includes more drivers unfamiliar with the roads and traffic patterns). Fatal accidents have risen throughout the U.S. in some legal and non-legal cannabis states.

    One of the first studies to examine the data and consider many of these confounding variables found that legal cannabis was associated with a temporary traffic fatality increase of one in a million residents, but just in the first year after legalization:

    “traffic fatalities temporarily increased by an average of one additional traffic fatality per million residents”
    [Lane TJ, Hall W. Traffic fatalities within US states that have legalized recreational cannabis sales and their neighbours. Addiction. 2019]

    IF this was indeed caused by legal cannabis, any state legalizing cannabis could easily offset this tiny increase with preemptive cannabis DUI prevention campaigns…or better yet put that money into alcohol DUI prevention since alcohol is proven to be FAR more dangerous behind the wheel.

    Regardless, increased risk of crash while DUI of any substance is not justification to criminalize all adults for using or possessing the substance when not driving. Though federal studies show that the increased crash risk from typical levels of DUI of cannabis is small, no more than that of legal levels of alcohol or that of having two or more passengers in the vehicle, studies show it is likely significantly less than this, maybe not even detectable…certainly vastly less than that of alcohol which is over 23 times increase at 0.20% BAC [Compton and Berning 2015].

    RE: ER visits

    From the study: “Chart review of ED visits between 1 January 2012 and 31 December 2016”
    “2567 visits were deemed at least partially attributable to cannabis.”

    Reported ER visits have increased mainly due to the fact that people are more likely to admit to cannabis use and visit a hospital under a legal environment vs under prohibition which comes with the strong possibility of prosecution, a visit from child protection services, etc. There were no fatalities. They are still less than 1% of all admissions. Also “marijuana related” simply means the patient has used cannabis recently, it does not mean it was the cause.

    514 per year in a city with a population of over 700,000 is not that alarming. It is 0.07%.

    The University of Colorado Hospital Emergency Department in the study [Monte et al. 2019] sees 100,000 visits per year. Cannabis use was mentioned in 0.5% of all visits, again, not alarming.

    “Monte acknowledged that these rates do not cause issues for the emergency department.”

  4. Many states have legalized adult use cannabis (11 so far), and none, voters nor legislators, want to reinstate prohibition.

    Colorado’s economy is booming, they’ve collected a billion in taxes since 2014, on many billions in sales that previously went to the underground. They have saved money and resources that formally went to arresting, prosecuting, and incarcerating people for cannabis possession and sales. The cannabis industry has created jobs in countless sectors related to growing, processing, distribution and retail sales of cannabis. Property values have risen significantly more than the rest of the nation, and they are enjoying some of the lowest unemployment rates ever. Opioid death rates in Colorado have risen one third that of the national average and remain significantly less than that average.

    Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper was always against legal cannabis. He had no choice as the people forced legalization through a ballot initiative in 2012. He said other states should wait a couple of years before legalizing. After one and a half years of legalization even he has come around and admitted that it has gone smoother than expected:

    “It seems like the people that were smoking before are mainly the people that are smoking now,” Hickenlooper said as Colorado marked six months of legal recreational sales last week. “If that’s the case, what that means is that we’re not going to have more drugged driving, or driving while high. We’re not going to have some of those problems. But we are going to have a system where we’re actually regulating and taxing something, and keeping that money in the state of Colorado…and we’re not supporting a corrupt system of gangsters.”
    [SOURCE: “How Is Marijuana Legalization Going? The Price Of Pot Peace Looks Like A Bargain”. Forbes. Jul 2014]

    After two years he has reiterated this:

    “If you look back, it’s turned out not to be as vexing as some people like myself…. I opposed the original vote, didn’t think it was a good idea. But the voters spoke and we’re trying to make it work, and I think we are. Again, it’s not as vexing as we thought it was going to be.”
    [SOURCE: John Hickenlooper Says Legalizing Pot Not as Vexing as We Thought. WestWord. Apr 2015]

    And again after three years:

    “If I had that magic wand now, I don’t know if I would wave it,” he said. “It’s beginning to look like it might work.”
    [SOURCE: Governor who called legalization ‘reckless’ now says Colorado’s pot industry is working. LA Times. May 2016]

    Andrew Freedman, marijuana coordination director for the state, said the roll out has been successful:

    “Dispensaries have a 96 to 97 percent compliance rate with the state laws, and the massive spikes in public safety and health issues that some feared haven’t come to pass, he said. And while there’s more mention of cannabis-related issues in emergency room visits, they comprise less than 1 percent of the whole”
    [SOURCE: Legal cannabis roll out smooth, says marijuana czar for the state. Aspen Daily News. July 4, 2015]

    Denver Mayor Michael Hancock who was strongly opposed to cannabis legalization has also changed his mind and now supports the legal market:

    “Denver Mayor Michael Hancock, a Democrat who like Gov. Charlie Baker and Boston Mayor Marty Walsh ‘adamantly opposed’ legalization, told Boston Herald Radio’s ‘Morning Meeting’ on Monday that his fears did not come to fruition and that he is ‘converted.'”
    [SOURCE: “Denver’s Mayor Says He’s ‘Converted’ On Legal Recreational Marijuana”. WBUR News. June 2018]

    In Nov 2012 the people of Colorado voted 55% – 45% in favor of recreational cannabis legalization. Residents continue support for legalization:

    (for – against)
    52% – 38% [SOURCE: Majority in Colorado say legal marijuana good. CNN, April, 2014.]
    54% – 43% [SOURCE: Quinnipiac University, July 21, 2014.]
    55% – 41% [SOURCE: Colorado Not Suffering Buyer’s Remorse Over Legal Marijuana, Poll Finds. Huffingtonpost, Sep, 2014.]
    58% – 38% [SOURCE: Quinnipiac University, Feb 24, 2015.]
    62% – 34% [SOURCE: Quinnipiac University, April 14, 2015.]

  5. You also overlook the fact that the main reason Harrisburg wants this is to line their pockets with more tax money. The people will see no benefit from this. I want hard data where this extra revenue is going to go. Perhaps they should look at doing something better with their time like getting rid of school choice and stop the profiteering that is killing or public school systems. That’s by far a better use of time and a greater benefit to the future of the state.

  6. Hey Devon,

    “Regardless, increased risk of crash while DUI of any substance is not justification to criminalize all adults for using or possessing the substance when not driving. ”

    The same argument can be made for the 99.o% of legal firearms owners being crucified by the actions of the .01%

  7. :::”The same argument can be made for the 99.o% of legal firearms owners being crucified by the actions of the .01%”

    And many other things. As I said in my first post, cannabis prohibition makes people more complacent with a big, overreaching, nanny-state government. This is not what America was founded on. This is part of the reason why the party who is supposedly for limited government should be spearheading this effort. Most seem to be RINO’s anymore (Republican In Name Only), with not a single Pennsylvanian republican representative or senator publicly supporting ending the prohibition against adult-use cannabis.

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