As Pennsylvania moves toward more permissive marijuana laws, skeptical lawmakers and their allies are fighting against further legalization.
This week, the Senate passed a bipartisan bill aimed at shielding legitimate marijuana businesses from state banking rules that could keep them in limbo. The bill, introduced by Sen. Sharif Street, D-Philadelphia, and Sen. John DiSanto, R-Dauphin, allows financial and insurance institutions to provide services to marijuana businesses without fear of state sanctions .
He went 46-3, with overwhelming support from both sides.
“Cashing this money safely in Pennsylvania will grow our economy and reduce costs for medical cannabis users,” DiSanto said in a press release.
Other lawmakers are set to open more drug formularies for patients using medical marijuana. In a memo to colleagues last week, Sen. Dan Laughlin, R-Erie, said he planned to introduce a bill allowing dispensaries to sell so-called edibles — marijuana in food form.
Under existing rules, Laughlin said, patients can try mixing some forms of marijuana into food at home, but the process can be complex and leave patients with too much or too little of the drug.
“Pennsylvania patients should be able to purchase safe, uniform, securely packaged and labeled edible medical cannabis, as they do in 25 other states that have legalized medical cannabis,” Laughlin told his colleagues.
Other efforts, including Laughlin and Street’s effort to allow medical marijuana patients to grow their own plants, have yet to be voted on by the committee.
While medical marijuana has become commonly accepted in Pennsylvania’s political culture since its legalization in 2016, legal recreational use remains controversial. Despite reduced enforcement in some cities, support from the governor’s office, and widespread endorsement in public opinion polls, the drug remains firmly illegal for recreational use in Keystone State.
The issue isn’t strictly partisan: Some GOP lawmakers have taken steps to support legal or decriminalized use, including as part of a bipartisan effort last year. But so far, none of their efforts have been adopted by either house of the General Assembly.
The issue was debated in a series of major committee hearings in Harrisburg. Earlier this year, lawmakers held three hearings to address regulatory and financial issues surrounding legalization.
Some lawmakers, however, remain openly opposed — and they have allies across the state.
This week, Sen. Judy Ward, R-Blair, chaired a hearing on the effects legalization could have on children and teens. Featuring law enforcement officials and academics, the hearing highlighted concerns that legal marijuana could mean the drug ends up in the hands of children.
“Pennsylvania has already legalized the use of marijuana for medical purposes”, Ward said, “but it would be a step in the wrong direction for the Commonwealth.”
Senate races are getting bitter and expensive
The state’s hugely expensive Senate primaries continue apace, with spending by individual candidates already well over $10 million in recent days — and more than a month to go. Wealthy candidates and their allied political action committees are pumping millions into television ads, especially into the uphill battle for the GOP Senate nomination.
One hope in that race, doctor Mehmet Oz, got a boost this week with a coveted endorsement from former President Donald Trump. But he continues to face attacks from hedge fund manager David McCormick and battles with several other candidates, including Jeff Bartos and Kathy Barnette.
Recent polls have shown that the race for the GOP remains open. Late last month, an Emerson College poll found that nearly half of GOP voters were undecided; another poll of likely voters earlier this month found nearly a third remained uncertain.
A Franklin & Marshall College poll released this week found that more than 40% of Republicans are undecided, and two in three with a preferred choice said they would be willing to change their minds.
The Democratic side has been marked by increasingly tough exchanges between Lt. Gov. John Fetterman and Rep. Conor Lamb, D-17th District. Lamb’s allies attacked from the right, with a controversial TV ad falsely calling Fetterman a “self-proclaimed democratic socialist”.
Bill would ban ballot boxes
Voters in Pennsylvania may soon lose access to ballot boxes that have popped up across the state during the COVID-19 pandemic, as part of the latest move to eliminate electoral reforms in the state before November 2020.
A bill by Sen. Cris Dush, R-Cameron, to remove the boxes passed by a 29-20 vote in the Senate on Wednesday, clearing the way for debate in the House. The bill would require mail-in ballots not mailed through the U.S. Postal Service to be dropped off directly at a county election office, reducing the number of locations available to remote voters.
GOP lawmakers have repeatedly taken steps to eliminate sweeping pandemic-era election reform provisions that allowed open mail-in voting. After Trump lost the election to President Joe Biden and claimed he had been defrauded, supporters moved to roll back those laws across the country — though they didn’t always cite the reasoning of Trump.
Ryan Brown covers statewide politics for Ogden Newspapers. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.