Sup­port grows for le­gal­iz­ing pot

Springfield Sun - - OPINION -

Med­i­cal mar­i­juana laws have been en­acted in 29 states and the Dis­trict of Columbia, and 21 states have de­crim­i­nal­ized mar­i­juana in a va­ri­ety of ways.

Un­think­able even a decade ago, eight states and the Dis­trict have made le­gal the use of recre­ational mar­i­juana.

In a June 2015 Franklin & Mar­shall Col­lege Penn­syl­va­nia Poll, al­most 90 per­cent of state vot­ers sup­ported medic­i­nal mar­i­juana.

Given that huge level of sup­port, it was no shock that the state Leg­is­la­ture ap­proved a bill le­gal­iz­ing it in the state. It had been pushed strongly and at times emo­tion­ally by the ad­vo­cates.

And so last April, with con­sid­er­able fan­fare, Gov. Tom Wolf signed the leg­is­la­tion into law.

But now, per­haps not sur­pris­ing at all, ma­jor­ity sup­port (56 per­cent) emerges for the le­gal­iza­tion of pot in the just re­leased F&M poll of state vot­ers.

That’s the first time since 2006, when the ques­tion was ini­tially asked in the poll, a ma­jor­ity in­di­cated sup­port.

The in­crease in ad­her­ents has been truly spec­tac­u­lar. Back in 2006 when the ques­tion was first asked, only 22 per­cent of state vot­ers fa­vored le­gal­iza­tion.

Po­lit­i­cally speak­ing, 32 per­cent of Democrats were in fa­vor in 2006, but that per­cent­age has spiked to 61 per­cent.

The in­crease among Repub­li­cans has been even more dra­matic. Only 12 per­cent of Repub­li­cans in­di­cated sup­port in 2006, in­creas­ing now to 44 per­cent.

There also has been a sig­nif­i­cant in­crease in all de­mo­graphic groups as well, and sev­eral stand out: self-iden­ti­fied lib­er­als lead the way with 78 per­cent re­spond­ing they would le­gal­ize it, fol­lowed by the 18-34 year-old mil­len­ni­als at 76 per­cent, and never-mar­ried, sin­gle vot­ers, at 74 per­cent.

Pro­po­nents ar­gue, of­ten us­ing Colorado as an ex­am­ple, that ma­jor dol­lars can be gar­nered from le­gal­iza­tion.

Given the rev­enues that would fol­low from tax­ing the prod­uct and the money saved from pros­e­cut­ing those ar­rested for pos­ses­sion, the state’s cof­fers would see hun­dreds of mil­lions in new rev­enues.

The search for new rev­enues has been a mo­ti­vat­ing fac­tor for the states that have le­gal­ized it.

So far, only one statewide Penn­syl­va­nia of­fice­holder, Au­di­tor Gen­eral Eu­gene Depasquale, has fa­vored it.

Af­ter in­di­cat­ing his sup­port, Depasquale went to great length to cite the var­i­ous ways it would save the tax­pay­ers money and raise new rev­enues.

There is lit­tle like­li­hood that in the near fu­ture Penn­syl­va­nia will le­gal­ize pot.

Still, ad­vo­cates led by Sen. Daylin Leach, D-17, of Haver­ford, in the up­per cham­ber and Rep. Jor­dan Har­ris in the state House have in­tro­duced bills to make it le­gal.

Given that the state has the most con­ser­va­tive leg­is­la­ture in mod­ern times, one firmly in Repub­li­can hands, the prospects for le­gal­iz­ing any­time soon are be­tween slim and none.

Gov. Wolf has not re­jected it out-of-hand, but he has pub­licly said that it’s time has not come, per­haps leav­ing the door open for fu­ture con­sid­er­a­tion.

How­ever, he’s on board with de­crim­i­nal­iz­ing it.

Im­por­tantly, there’s no way for the vot­ers to pe­ti­tion for a legally bind­ing ref­er­en­dum.

The state does not have a gen­eral ini­tia­tive law that could be used to put the ques­tion on the bal­lot for the vot­ers to de­cide.

All of that said, there are still con­cerns raised about the ef­fects of the fre­quent use of mar­i­juana on de­pen­dency, which can lead to a num­ber of healthre­lated prob­lems.

Mar­i­juana use is also the cause of an in­crease in ac­ci­dents, es­pe­cially those in­volv­ing mo­tor ve­hi­cles.

Not least is the ar­gu­ment made by op­po­nents that it’s a gate­way drug, lead­ing to other more dan­ger­ous drug use, not that dis­sim­i­lar to the opi­oid prob­lem.

Fi­nally, one step for­ward and one likely to re­ceive more pub­lic and leg­isla­tive sup­port would be to move ahead with de­crim­i­nal­iza­tion.

That could mean re­duc­ing the var­i­ous penal­ties for pos­ses­sion of small amounts of the weed. G. Terry Madonna is di­rec­tor of the Cen­ter for Pol­i­tics and Pub­lic Af­fairs, di­rec­tor of Franklin & Mar­shall Col­lege Poll and pro­fes­sor of Pub­lic Af­fairs at Franklin & Mar­shall Col­lege.

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