In a press conference, David Scott with the Pennsylvania NAACP, called the war on drugs a "catastrophic failure" and said the bill would be a step towards addressing the racial disparity among marijuana arrests in the state. Figures show blacks are more than five times more likely to be arrested for marijuana than whites in Pennsylvania, despite studies showing usage rates between whites and blacks are about the same.
"So much money and resources have been spent on the war on drugs while there is an alarming while there is a lack of funds for Philadelphia and school systems in general," Scott said at the press conference. "An ACLU report estimated in just 2010, one year, one hundred million dollars was taken from Pennsylvania taxpayers just to enforce marijuana possession."
Senate Bill 770, sponsored by Sen. Daylin Leach, would legalize the use of cannabis by anyone over the age of 21, create a state-regulated (and taxed) retail cannabis industry, and allow for adults over 21 to cultivate their own supply.
Sen. Daylin Leach.
Pennsylvanians would be allowed to grow up to six plants, so long as only three are in flower at any one time. Limits aren't set on how much a person can possess (you're allowed to keep all you grow), however you can only give up to one ounce at a time to another person so long as no money changes hands. The bill would also legalize and regulate industrial hemp farming and production. All of the regulatory power would go to the state liquor control board.
Unfortunately, it has also been sitting in the Public Health Committee since the start of April. Leach says he's heard a lot of support from colleagues who say they "wish" they could vote for it but can't risk the public scrutiny.
"My belief is if this bill was put up to a secret ballot, it would pass," Leach told PennLive.com. "The Senate doesn't look for controversy. Few people have said it's a bad idea. They said it's politically difficult."
The good news is that there is still plenty of time to drum up more support. The Pennsylvania General Assembly convenes in January and runs through the entire year, adjourning in late November. The bad news is that Gov. Tom Corbett has said he would veto any marijuana laws - recreational or medical - that find their way to his desk. In the past, he has called marijuana smokers criminals and calls cannabis a gateway drug.
If you think the bill deserves to make it out of the Public Health and Welfare Committee to the full Senate for consideration, you should politely write to the committee members and ask them to listen to the majority of Americans who think cannabis shouldn't be a crime.