HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) — Lt. Gov. John Fetterman (D), who spends about as much time as anyone thinking about the legalization of recreational marijuana, wouldn’t have guessed as recently as 4/20 of 2021 that State Sen. Mike Regan (R-York County) would be sponsoring pro-legalization legislation by 4/20 of 2022.
How unlikely did that seem?
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“I said, ‘What’s 4/20?'” Regan said, describing his reaction when his chief of staff told him the media were interested in speaking with him on 4/20 Day. “He wasn’t sure. So we had to Google it and find out exactly what it meant.”
4/20, for those who (like Regan) weren’t aware, is a reference to marijuana. “I’m not really a pot enthusiast,” Regan said Wednesday as if that story left any room for doubt.
His support for the legalization of recreational marijuana is, however, perhaps more important than the support of even an unambiguous pot enthusiast like Fetterman.
Republicans, after all, control both chambers of Pennsylvania’s General Assembly. Nothing becomes law in Pennsylvania without Republican support.
So “for somebody like Mike Regan to call it inevitable in Pennsylvania is a dramatic shift for the Republican party,” Fetterman said. “I mean, you know, the former U.S. marshal, somebody in really high regard and standing within his caucus” — in other words, among Republican lawmakers.
“I’ve spoken with Senator Regan,” Fetterman said. “And I’ve said, I know we’re different politically on a lot of things, but we both agree on this.”
Opponents of legalization worry it could cause people who are curious about marijuana but uninterested in violating the law to begin using the drug. They worry about the societal impacts of people working or driving under the influence of pot.
Regan and Fetterman cite mostly similar reasons for their support of legalization for people 21 and over. Both believe most people who want to smoke pot will do so whether it’s legal or not, and making it legal — they believe — will make it safer and put money into the hands of domestic producers, retailers, and (because it would be taxed) state government rather than drug traffickers.
“We see anywhere between three and four billion dollars annually go across the border into Mexico, into Colombia and into other source countries and supporting the worst criminals in history,” Regan said, citing sources that also estimate as many as 2 million Pennsylvanians use marijuana, far in excess of the 600,000 that can do so legally because they possess medical marijuana cards.
Regan said the money that doesn’t support criminal enterprises supports the treasuries of an increasing number of nearby states like New Jersey, which has joined New York in the legalization of recreational use of the drug.
Polls have found solid majorities of Pennsylvanians in favor of legalization. So might it happen? If so, when?
Regan said he’s finalizing his legislation, which will get a hearing in the Pa. Senate’s Law and Justice Committee, which he chairs. Ultimately, GOP leaders in both chambers would decide whether to allow a vote on the bill, which — if it passes — Governor Tom Wolf, a Democrat, would surely sign.
Theoretically, only a handful of Republicans in each chamber would need to join Democrats — who have generally been more supportive of legalization — to pass the bill. But Regan said in practice, party leaders want “a majority of the majority” — a majority of even Republicans, in other words, ensuring broad bipartisan support — before they’ll schedule a full vote.
Regan says if (from the perspective of supporters) all goes well, legalization could happen by June 30.
He said the legislation would create a process to ensure Pennsylvanians who are jailed for something that’s no longer a crime will be released from prison and have their records expunged.