Is Pennsylvania Falling Behind on Recreational Marijuana Legalization?

Across the country, Americans recently lined up to vote for President Trump, Vice President Biden, or a third party candidate. Along with the incredibly important duty of choosing our next President, voters in five states where given the opportunity to legalize marijuana in some form.

The legalization of marijuana has long been debated, often falling on partisan lines as our opinions on the product have shifted. So far, marijuana has been shown to have positive impacts on chronic pain, anxiety, epilepsy and more. However opponents argue that the long term side effects of daily high doses are still unknown.

More States Back Legalization

Voters in Arizona, Mississippi, Montana, New Jersey and South Dakota all passed ballot initiatives that would legalize recreational or medical marijuana. Several of these States will now need to have the State legislatures pass the rules and regulations around recreational or medical marijuana. This will add some time onto the legalization process but should not permanently inhibit it. 

The shift in the perception of marijuana has changed the partisan outlook that once affected the product. While Arizona and New Jersey voted for Vice President Biden, Mississippi, Montana and South Dakota all voted for President Trump.

 Four of these five states are dominated by Republicans:

·        Arizona has a Republican Governor, with Republican majorities in both the State House and Senate

·        Mississippi has a Republican Governor, with Republican majorities in both the State House and Senate

·        Montana has just elected a Republican Governor, with Republican majorities in both the State House and Senate

·        New Jersey has a Democratic Governor, with Democratic majorities in both the State House and Senate

·        South Dakota has a Republican Governor, with Republican majorities in both the State House and Senate

Despite the diversity in political and ideological positions, these five states still legalized weed in some way or another. Marijuana legalization has slowly becoming a non-partisan issue.

A recent Gallup poll shows that Conservatives are the only remaining political group that is hesitant about recreational marijuana legalization. 49% agree that it should be legal and to 50% saying it should not be legal. This however, means 48% of Republicans support legalization, with 52% opposing.

The historically perceptions around marijuana have changed, and Republican majorities in time may support legalization.

How Do the Revenue Projections in These Five States Compare to Pennsylvania’s Projections?

Revenue projections should not be the only factor taken under consideration when legalizing a product. However, it can play a major part in the decision making process for voters and legislators.

The following revenue generation projections show the potential economic benefits to these five states:

·        Recreational marijuana in Arizona is projected to generate $254 million in revenue annually.

·        Medical marijuana in Mississippi is projected to generate $6 million in revenue annually.

·        Recreational marijuana in Montana is projected to generate $236 million in revenue by 2026, or more than $40 million per year.

·        Recreational marijuana in New Jersey is projected to generation $126 million in revenue annually.

·        The combined revenue projections for medical and recreational marijuana in South Dakota would raise roughly $60 million by 2024.

For comparison, in 2018 Pennsylvania Auditor General DePasquale projected recreational marijuana revenue to generate $581 million annually. If all holds true, Pennsylvania could generate more revenue than all five states combined. 

Are Republican Leaders in Pennsylvania Moving Towards Legalization?

I’ve previously discussed the progress of medical marijuana in Pennsylvania and the potential economic benefits of recreational marijuana in Pennsylvania. In the past, Republican leadership in the General Assembly signaled that recreational marijuana wasn’t on the table. Even as the pandemic drags on, this position has held firm. As more conservative leaning states are legalizing recreational marijuana, will that push Republican leaders to jump-start the legalization conversation here?

In short, no. Republican leadership in the State House and Senate have confirmed that there are no serious discussions occurring in their chambers at this time. These conversations may change depending on the economic outlook of Pennsylvania as the pandemic drags on. That is however, purely speculative.

For the time being, Pennsylvania is falling behind as other states are legalizing recreational marijuana. By 2024, the marijuana industry could contribute up to $130 billion annually to the American economy. As investments around the country continue to support the ever-growing marijuana market, Pennsylvania is losing out.

This blog post was written for Ridge Policy Group, a top government affairs firm, by Aaron Dimick.

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