Marijuana Legalization: Should Pennsylvania Go Green?

Steven Makino, Staff Writer

For decades, the debate over whether medical and recreational marijuana should be nationally legal or decided on a state-by-state basis has been a complex one, to say the least. This issue has seen a lot of attention in recent years, as President Richard Nixon’s “War on Drugs” initiative has continued to decrease in popularity since it was enacted.

Interestingly, in a country that seems more politically divided than ever these days, marijuana legalization is an area that has garnered notable bipartisan support. Even top political figures, such as President Biden and former President Trump, have signaled support for loosening federal restrictions when it comes to cannabis products, though both continue to hold reservations about taking the bold step in full legalization. 

Nevertheless, there is no denying that much popular discourse seems to be favoring pro-marijuana activists on the state level across the nation. Currently, Pennsylvania is being eyed as the next state to join 21 other states in fully legalizing the drug, which leaves the key question: Should marijuana usage be legal in the state? I think that the benefits of legalization are too great to ignore.

While there are good faith arguments on both sides of the issue, there seems to be a mandate for legalization on a political level. Just last November, Pennsylvanians decided to send then Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman to the U.S. Senate, who repeatedly emphasized the fact that he supported national legislation to fully legalize marijuana. 

Additionally, former Governor Tom Wolf legalized cannabis for medical use in 2016 and has also been vocal in his support for recreational use of the drug. He included adult-use legislation in his 2021 state budget proposal, which was unfortunately struck down by the General Assembly, and he also made it a priority to grant pardons for those with non-violent marijuana conviction charges through his broader clemency program. 

Current Governor Josh Shapiro said in an interview with Al Día that he wants to “build on that program” and has also stated his support for adult-use legalization while on the campaign trail.

The increase in support for this policy is something that isn’t terribly shocking, as the states that have legalized marijuana have greatly benefited economically. For example, Washington has seen a significant increase in tax revenue from marijuana as the state accumulated around $559.5 million in legal cannabis revenue in 2021, and Colorado saw notable increases as well. 

On the same note, cannabis analytics company New Frontier reported that federally legalizing marijuana could add an additional $105.6 billion in aggregate federal tax revenue by 2025. Increased tax revenue, especially on the state level, would allow for more wiggle room in spending on state initiatives in Pennsylvania.

More economic benefits would be seen with the addition of new cannabis-related jobs, as the industry will need a decent number of employees in order to effectively function. The lucrative process of growing and distributing marijuana legally will require many employees ranging from farmers, construction workers, manufacturers and more. Especially with growing concerns about an imminent recession, the growth of the marijuana industry would be a big benefit not just to consumers, but also to individuals looking for stable job opportunities.

It is worth noting that there are also researched benefits to both medical and recreational marijuana use. According to the Mayo Clinic, there is evidence to suggest that marijuana helps reduce burning and shooting pain in the body, as well as reduce muscle stiffness. As a result, it has been suggested that marijuana could pose as an alternative painkiller that is safer and less addictive than many prescribed today. 

There is also evidence of marijuana’s beneficial effect on cancer patients in reducing nausea and vomiting. Additionally, there are promising studies that show a possible link between marijuana and a lower number of suicides, although more research on this subject is necessary.

This is not to say that serious health concerns about the usage of marijuana do not exist or are not legitimate. Excessive usage of cannabis could result in long-term respiratory damage as well as permanent cognitive damage, especially in younger people. Car accidents while under the influence of marijuana are also cause for concern. 

However, it is worth noting that many drawbacks and dangers attributed to marijuana could also be said about products like alcohol and tobacco, both of which are legal nationwide for adult use. The Mayo Clinic even states that “cannabis has less potential for addiction and long-term consequences than other substances, including nicotine and alcohol.” In other words, why should one be illegal but not others?

The pro-cannabis movement has seen many successes in recent years, in the public eye as well as on the legislative level. For example, stereotypes of marijuana users being lazy and unmotivated have become less widely held, with new perceptions justified by the many people in public life and private citizens who use cannabis and do not fall under common generalizations like these. 

The Medical Marijuana and Cannabidiol Research Expansion Act was recently passed with overwhelmingly bi-partisan support and signed into law by President Biden, positive progress for the federal approach to marijuana. This act seeks to eliminate barriers on the research of the drug and its health benefits. 

While it may take some time to reach conclusions as a result of this research, it is a step forward on the road to legalization. With great legislative and social progress seen in recent years, I believe that legalization, both in Pennsylvania and nationwide, will become reality—it’s just a matter of time.