HARRISBURG – A statewide listening tour to explore the issue of marijuana legalization by Lt. Gov. John Fetterman wraps up this weekend with a series of events in Philadelphia.
Fetterman has spent the last four months visiting each county in Pennsylvania to solicit public input on the issue. He’s promised a report on his conclusions based on the tour that will be released next month.
In addition to holding the listening tour town halls, the lieutenant governor has also been accepting online comments.
His office received about 30,000 online comments, Christine Kauffman, a spokeswoman for Fetterman said on Friday.
She didn’t have a tally for the number of people who’d visited the town hall sessions on Friday. Most people who’ve turned out for those meetings have expressed support for the idea of legalizing marijuana.
Fetterman launched the tour after Gov. Tom Wolf said the state should have a serious conversation about the possibility of legalizing marijuana for adult recreational use. In making that announcement, Wolf pointed to indications that both New York and New Jersey were on the verge of relaxing their marijuana laws. Neither of the neighboring states has followed through on legalizing recreational marijuana. But it is legal in the District of Columbia and 10 states — Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont and Washington.
A sample of online comments obtained through a Right-to-Know request indicates that the majority of people who submitted written opinions were in favor of legalizing the drug, as well.
Forty-five of the first 50 comments submitted once the online comment went live were in favor of legalization of marijuana for recreational use by adults. A sample of another 50 comments taken in the middle of the comment period shows a slightly diminished level of support, but still 35 of the 50 comments from a day in March were in favor of legalizing the drug.
The Lieutenant Governor’s Office redacted the home addresses of commenters but provided counties of residence on the comment forms provided in response to the Right-to-Know request.
Jennifer Koshler of Montour County wrote that legalizing marijuana would be “a great revenue generator” for the state and that marijuana is “a better option than other legalized drugs like alcohol or opioids.”
Rikki Lake of Lawrence County also said that legalizing the drug could provide revenue for the state while also providing something that “helps people with so many health problems."
Jericha Fenstmaker of Mercer County wrote that legalizing marijuana would save the state money because it would reduce the number of people in jail. She also added that marijuana could also help by giving people an alternative to opioids and alcohol.
“I do believe that if recovering addicts had access to marijuana more than suboxone or methadone we would see a decrease in deaths from hard drugs and crimes committed over hard drugs,” Fenstmaker wrote.
On the other hand, Margaret Garman of Montour County said she supports the state’s move to allow medical use of marijuana but opposes the idea of allowing the drug to be used recreationally.
“We were told all these years that it was a gateway drug into more powerful drugs,” she wrote, adding that there are other societal concerns, including traffic safety and how marijuana use would impact workplaces. “Why ask for problems we don’t want or need?” she wrote.
Marion Crawford of Beaver County wrote she’s a registered nurse and there hasn’t been enough research into the long-term health effects of marijuana use. “There is not one positive in the legalization of recreational use of marijuana,” she wrote. “Healthy lives are more important than taxes.”
Those were similar to the objections raised by the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association, which has opposed the idea of legalizing marijuana for recreational use.
“In states like Washington and Colorado that have legalized cannabis usage, youth consumption is up, fatal drugged car crashes have increased, and a black market for the drugs continues to thrive,” according to a statement of opposition from the DA’s group.
But advocates for legalizing marijuana say Fetterman’s tour has demonstrated the statewide support for relaxing the state’s drug laws.
Patrick Nightingale, executive director of the Pittsburgh chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws said that the listening tour provided a “safe” venue for people to express their support and it also provided an accessible opportunity for people who live in rural areas and can’t travel to the Capitol for rallies.
He acknowledged, though, supporters of legalizing marijuana were probably more motivated to weigh in on the issue than people who think it’s a bad idea.
Those who did express opposition leaned on “the same Reefer Madness positions” that have been used for decades, Nightingale said.
He noted that despite the public support for legalizing recreational marijuana use, there are still strong political headwinds against the proposal at the Capitol, particularly among Republicans who have the majorities in both chambers of the General Assembly.
As a result, it’s probably more likely that in the short-term the state could move to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana rather than fully legalize the sale and use of marijuana, he said.
“We have to be realistic,” Nightingale said.
Pot views by county
|(Based on 100 comments provided by Lieutenant Governor's Office in response to a Right-to-Know request)|