Shapiro’s Pennsylvania Budget Projects Revenue From Sale of Still-Illegal Recreational Marijuana

Although he didn’t mention cannabis in his budget address, Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro’s $45 billion spending plan (pdf) sets the stage for a bill to legalize recreational marijuana this legislative session.

The legislature is now working on the 2023/2024 budget.

The budget projects spending beyond the fiscal year, as common, so lawmakers can predict how today’s spending will play out in the state’s future.

In the projections, Shapiro includes income for a recreational marijuana program—an “Adult Use Cannabis Tax,” his proposed budget says.

It calls for a 20 percent tax on the wholesale price of products sold through the regulated framework of production and sales, once legalized, the budget says. The proposal assumes sales would start in January 2025 and it estimates generating revenues of $15.9 million for the fiscal year 2024–2025; $64.1 million in 2025–2026; $132.6 million for 2026–2027; and $188.8 million for 2027–2028.

A source in Shapiro’s office told The Epoch Times that recreational marijuana was in the budget to start the conversation. Lawmakers have been talking about legalizing recreational marijuana for years.

In 2016, Pennsylvania legalized marijuana for medical use only. Since then, mostly Democrats and a few Republicans have urged the legalization of recreational marijuana. Former Democrat Gov. Tom Wolf advocated for it, touting the hundreds of millions in tax revenue it would provide and making the case that surrounding states have already legalized the casual use of cannabis, including New York, New Jersey, and Virginia, and it will be legal in Maryland starting July 2023.

Wolf sent then-Lt. Gov. John Fetterman on a 67-county marijuana listening tour in 2019. Fetterman sold T-shirts promoting legalizing recreational marijuana in Pennsylvania and the United States during his campaign for Senate.

Recreational marijuana is still a crime under federal law.

Chance of Passing

With Democrats in the House majority, recreational marijuana has a better chance of getting out of committee and onto the floor for a vote.

The Epoch Times asked the office of Democrat state House Speaker Joanna McClinton if she would run such a bill but her office, did not receive a response at the time of publication.

Rep. David Zimmerman (R-Pa.) believes recreational marijuana could pass in the House but would be stopped in the Republican-ruled Senate.

“What [House Democrats] did to us Republicans in the House is, every committee has 12 Democrats and nine Republicans, so they can pass pretty much anything they want,” Zimmerman told The Epoch Times. “And then on the floor, if they have an extra vote or two, they can pass it. So I’m going to believe that they’re going to get it passed over in the House. But I really don’t believe that it’s going to have the legs over [in] the Senate, which is still 28 Republicans to 22 Democrats, so I think they’re going to block it.”

After years of debate on the issue, Senate Republican leadership is not saying where it stands. But it is not a hard no.

“This issue is multifaceted, and proposals would need to first be vetted by standing committees before advancing further and receiving input by each of our 28 members,” Kate Eckhart Flessner, communications director for Senate Majority Leader Joe Pittman, told The Epoch Times in an email. “Strengthening our communities and ensuring public safety are of paramount importance to our caucus.”

Sen. Doug Mastriano (R-Pa.), who challenged Shapiro in the 2022 election, called Shapiro’s budget unsustainable and based on assumptions.

“I think it’s madness that he thinks recreational marijuana is a good idea when New Mexico, Colorado, Oregon, and Washington have all experimented with it. It’s not gone well. There hasn’t been a windfall,” Mastriano told The Epoch Times.

In Colorado, estimates show it costs $4.50 for every dollar brought in by marijuana tax revenue, according to the Pennsylvania Family Institute. These costs are seen in areas like health care, traffic, crime, housing, education, workplace safety, and homelessness. Marijuana legalization becomes a net loss.

“Using the state budget to propose marijuana being sold for nonmedical use in local communities is gross negligence to the children and families our state officials are elected to serve,” Dan Bartkowiak of the Pennsylvania Family Institute said in a statement. “This problematic proposal is right out of Big Tobacco’s playbook: Commercialize the sale of an addictive drug, allowing a kids’ menu of colorfully flavored products with dangerously high THC levels by the truckload to be marketed in ways that attract young users. The harms caused by such a policy—especially one with such a high tax rate that Gov. Shapiro is proposing—outweigh any perceived benefits.”

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