Pushback from lawmakers, advocates on recreational marijuana legalization

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HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) – On the same day Gov. Tom Wolf came out in support of legalizing recreational marijuana, we’re hearing from those on the other side of the issue.

The dominating argument for those we spoke to against legalization is that marijuana is unsafe and leads to more problems. They don’t buy into the promises of high tax revenues or decreased criminal activity. For them, it’s about safety.

“This is just horrible public policy and I’m embarrassed the governor of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania would put it forth,” state Rep. Rob Kauffman (R-Franklin) said..

Kauffman’s biggest concern is what the introduction of another legal drug could do to the younger population.

“Teenagers, when they see something legalized, it normalizes it for them,” he said.

Kauffman criticized Lt. Gov. John Fetterman’s marijuana listening tour which visited all 67 counties, calling it a public relations campaign.

“We need to study this issue much more intensely than just do a public opinion poll or a promotional tour,” Kauffman said. “We need to be studying what other states who have already done this, what they’re experiencing, the ramifications, the consequences.”

Those negative impacts are detailed in a new study in Colorado, prepared by the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, Strategic Intelligence Unit.

It’s a study that Stephen Erni, executive director of the Pennsylvania DUI Association, has reviewed and cites as evidence that legalization will not help Pennsylvania.

“If you just look at some of these crashes, how they go up after it becomes legal,” he said. “

The study shows, among other things, a 109% increase in traffic deaths where drivers tested positive for marijuana, from 55 in 2013 to 115 in 2018.

“A lot of people think that when people are using marijuana, they are more cautious and they’re more careful drivers than let’s say somebody using alcohol. That’s not the case,” Erni said. “Their behavior is actually very aggressive on the road. It’s not your laid back person.”

Erni believes the problem in Pennsylvania is that law enforcement is not ready.

“We need to increase exponentially the number of drug recognition experts that we have in Pennsylvania,” Erni said. “We would need to, in a very short period of time, triple the number of officers that we have with such form of training.”

Both Erni and Kauffman believe any tax revenue isn’t worth the risk.

“We should not be deciding public policy over the idea that ‘oh, we can get tax revenue off poor public policy,’ ” Kauffman said. 

You can read the full report about the effects and impacts legalized marijuana had in Colorado here.

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