A Pennsylvania House committee will convene for an informational meeting next week to hear from experts about adult-use marijuana legalization as legislators chart a path for the reform, with the panel’s chairman considering the possibility of incorporating a state-run cannabis sales model.
While the House Health Subcommittee on Health Care will not take up any specific legislation at its November 1 hearing, members will have the chance to listen to testimony from professors, advocates and addiction specialists about the health considerations of moving forward with legalization in the Keystone State.
The subcommittee is chaired by Rep. Dan Frankel (D), who has previously sponsored cannabis legalization legislation and circulated a cosponsorship memo earlier this year previewing plans to file another reform bill this session.
Frankel told Marijuana Moment in a phone interview on Tuesday that the measure he’s planning to introduce early next year will likely be “quite different” from the version he previously sponsored, and it will be partly informed by the meetings members hold in his panel. The lawmaker expects there will be two or three meetings to discuss the reform before a final bill is brought to the full committee.
“My framework for addressing this overall, which is what we’ll try to fit into this hearing, is as we move forward with an adult-use bill, focusing on for safety, equity—particularly with respect to restorative justice—and also revenue for the state and access for folks,” Frankel said.
“My goal would be to find something that that our entire conference can support—and I would expect that there would be some bipartisan support for this legislation,” he said. “I think it’s very important that we have bipartisan support if we’re going to send something over to the Senate, which is controlled by my Republican colleagues.”
The chairman said that lawmakers will be looking at a variety of state regulatory models and “what we could do better” in Pennsylvania, noting that certain states have “come forward with some pretty interesting ideas as well that we want to hear about, so we’ll be looking at those as well as we craft something.”
One of those interesting ideas that the chairman said is “certainly an option” is the model of state-run cannabis stores, similar to what’s been proposed and is being actively considered in the New Hampshire legislature as a commission there explores legalization options.
“It has some political challenges to go that way, but in some ways, it makes sense if you want to roll out adult-use quickly and safely,” he said. “That could be part of the retail dispensary operation—having that administered as well, since there’s already that infrastructure there with respect to alcohol,” the sale of which the state currently controls in Pennsylvania.
“So there’s some interest in looking at the state store system as part of it—not necessarily entirely—but as part of the distribution system or dispensary system,” Frankel said. However, he recognized that beside political challenges, with certain conservatives already critical of the state’s alcohol system, there’s also the fact that Pennsylvania purchases much of the alcohol that is sold at retailers from out-of-state companies, which is “not an option with respect to cannabis” under federal prohibition.
With a new, narrow Democratic majority in the House this session and support from Gov. Josh Shapiro (D), the prospects of legalization in Pennsylvania picked up—but there’s still an open question about how the GOP-controlled Senate might approach reform if the opposite chamber delivered it a bill.
That said, more Republican senators have come on board with the policy change, with a bipartisan legalization measure already having been filed in the body this session by Sens. Dan Laughlin (R) and Sharif Street (D), for example.
Last year, the Senate Law and Justice Committee held a series of hearings on marijuana legalization that were meant to inform legislation that the panel’s Republican chairman, Sen. Mike Regan (R), was drafting.
At next week’s meeting, the House panel will hear from Carnegie Mellon University professor Jonathan Caulkins, Penn State College of Medicine professor Kent Vrana, New Frontier Data Chief Knowledge Officer Amanda Reiman and a representative of the addiction prevention community.
A staffer for Frankel told Marijuana Moment on Tuesday that issues covered will include the impact of legalization on the illicit market, the health implications of marijuana use and the economic and industry potentials of the policy change.
Reiman told Marijuana Moment that she will be providing “an overview of who cannabis consumers are, their sourcing patterns and preferred methods of ingestion” based on a survey that New Frontier Data conducted this year. She will alsobrief lawmakers on “market projections through 2030 based on two scenarios—one where the states expected to open markets do (OH, FL, etc), and one where no other markets open between now and then,” she said.
“For consumers, I will be covering consumer demographics, use patterns, motivations for use, preferred product forms, sourcing and spending,” Reiman said. “Finally, I will be reviewing reasons why people do not participate in the regulated market.”
Cannabis industry stakeholders were intentionally excluded for this initial meeting in order to allow members to hear from those who don’t have a direct investment in the potential market and learn more about “the contours and the landscape that they’re going to be looking at as they consider legalization,” a committee staffer said.
In addition to the more conventional legalization proposal that’s being sponsored by bipartisan senators this session, House lawmakers have also filed separate bills to legalize marijuana sales through state-run stores and to provide permits for farmers and small agriculture businesses to cultivate cannabis once adult-use sales are allowed.
Also, earlier this month, the House approved a large-scale tax reform bill that contains language to provide state-level relief to medical marijuana businesses as they continue to struggle under federal financial barriers. The reform drew the ire of Republican members—who normally champion tax cuts—as a Democratic giveaway to the cannabis industry.
Another measure to allow all licensed medical marijuana grower-processors in the state to sell their cannabis products directly to patients cleared the Senate in September, and it’s now pending House committee action.
Former Gov. Tom Wolf (D), who came around to support legalization near the end of his term, also signed large-scale legislation last year that included provisions to protect banks and insurers in the state that work with licensed medical marijuana businesses.
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Black lawmakers separately discussed the need to ensure equity considerations are at the center of any marijuana legalization plan at a conference last month.
Shapiro, the governor, supports enacting cannabis reform and proposed to legalize and tax adult-use marijuana as part of his 2023-2024 budget request in March.
Frankel said that having the governor’s support is “an important thing to have,” though he’s skeptical about the high tax rate that Shapiro proposed as part of his legalization plan, pointing out that it could make it difficult for Pennsylvania to compete with neighboring state markets like New Jersey where the tax rate is significantly lower.
Meanwhile, Laughlin, who is sponsoring legalization legislation this session, also sent a letter to state law enforcement in February, urging officials to take steps to protect gun rights for cannabis consumers, particularly medical marijuana patients, in light of a federal court’s recent ruling on the issue.
Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.