A pair of influential senators in Pennsylvania have hopped aboard the recreational cannabis bandwagon as the Keystone State prepares to take its next steps in ending prohibition. Republican senators Mike Regan and Dan Laughlin this week announced their support for a planned recreational cannabis bill, joining a near-unanimous push from Democrats including Gov. Tom Wolf and Lt. Gov. John Fetterman as well as each of the 21 Democrat senators and 88 representatives in office.
Pennsylvania legalized medical marijuana in 2016 and the first dispensaries opened in February 2018, but the push for recreational cannabis has made little progress since then under the Republican-controlled House and Senate. Regan and Laughlin hope their support for the plant will inspire others from their party to consider backing rec.
While Laughlin has long been known as a centrist, Regan is former U.S. Marshal who served under George W. Bush and contributed to the federal War on Drugs. Regan strongly opposed adult-use cannabis when he was first elected to the Pennsylvania senate in 2016.
Regan said his support for the plant comes after watching nearby states have success with the plant. New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Vermont and Massachusetts have all legalized retail cannabis. The Republican senator said not moving forward with rec would cost his state millions in tax revenue from locals who leave Pennsylvania to buy the plant in surrounding states.
“We can’t just stand here idly and watch our taxpayer dollars go to other states,” Regan said. If people really want access to recreational marijuana, they don’t have to travel far.”
A memorandum from Regan’s office said that legalizing retail marijuana could raise up to $1 billion each year in tax revenue.
But other Republican leaders in the senate have thus far not committed. The state District Attorney’s Association has also long opposed adult-use cannabis, arguing that legalizing the plant will cause DUI cases to increase.
Even with Laughlin and Regan on board, over a dozen more Republican votes would be needed to move a rec bill forward. If the legislature is unable to pass it in the coming months, rec could appear as a question for voters on the 2022 ballot.
The state’s current medical law lists 23 qualifying conditions that a physician can approve for adults to receive a patient card.