By Aryanna Berringer
With medical marijuana estimated to bring in $11 million in revenue to Pennsylvania in 2018, it’s no surprise that lawmakers are beginning to realize that a strong policy to legalize pot makes a lot of sense.
Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto joined Pennsylvania Auditor General Eugene DePasquale in Pittsburgh on Thursday for the release of a report that estimates the legalization of recreational marijuana could be a billion dollar industry bringing in more than $500 million in revenue to the state.
“This issue not only has a revenue side to it, but it also has a personal side to it: people whose lives are thrown out of balance because of the penalization of cannabis not being legal, people who are not able to have access to housing or access to jobs or access to an opportunity in life,” Peduto said at a press conference, where he joined DePasquale in calling on state legislators to legalize recreational pot once and for all.
“Repeated polls have shown that a majority of Americans now believe marijuana should be legalized. In Pennsylvania, it’s 56 percent,” DePasquale said in a statement.
The report shows the “staggering” amount the state could reap in tax revenue “if legislators simply did what their constituents want them to do: regulate and tax marijuana for adult use,” DePasquale said.
These are just the financial benefits, Peduto rightly pointed out the personal benefits as well. The costs associated with the incarceration of people who use marijuana recreationally (predominately people of color) are steep. A marijuana conviction can hinder an individual’s ability to find work to take care of their family.
In 1992, I watched as my father, a black man, was handcuffed and placed in the back of a police car on a marijuana charge. For the next four months while he was imprisoned, I could only talk to my father through a pane of thick glass.
Those four months behind bars made it impossible for my dad to find a job, income he desperately needed to pay off the fine from his conviction. Those four months also insured that our family lived below the poverty line and stayed there.
Today, 24 percent of the city’s population is black but African Americans account for 71 percent of the marijuana-possession charges. These arrests continue despite data from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration showing that black and white people consume cannabis at nearly the same rate.
DePasquale and Peduto are right; it is time that we legalize marijuana, tax it, and start funding programs in this Commonwealth. It could fund programs like the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) that provides health insurance for underinsured children. Pennsylvania was the birthplace of CHIP and we continue to see President Trump and Republicans in congress use our children’s healthcare as a bargaining chip over the course of the past year. The revenue we could bring in from a recreational marijuana tax would make sure we fund CHIP for the foreseeable future.
As Pennsylvania considers its next steps in the pursuit of full legalization of marijuana and it becomes a legitimate business, we need to make sure that the communities that are overly incarcerated and arrested also reap the profits.