By John L. Micek
For the Pittsburgh Current
One of the Pennsylvania House’s most vocal advocates for recreational cannabis legalization is rolling out a rejiggered version of his plan to lift the state’s longstanding prohibition on perhaps one of the most poorly prohibited illicit substances on earth.
In a ‘Dear Colleague’ memo sent out at mid-afternoon on Tuesday, Rep. Jake Wheatley, D-Allegheny, laid out an ambitious plan that would not only dedicate the tax revenue from legalization to a host of popular causes, but also move to undo what criminal justice reform advocates have described as the long-term and devastating effects of a marijuana arrest.
“The failed war on drugs produced countless victims to heavy handed, unreasonable drug laws. Perhaps the most important aspect of this legislation is my Cannabis Clean Slate,” Wheatley wrote. “By legalizing the use of cannabis and simultaneously expunging records and releasing non-violent drug offenders from prison, the Commonwealth can do its part to repair the damage of the last 40 years.”
Wheatley test-drove an earlier version of his plan at a Capitol press conference in February 2019. In his memo to his colleagues, the Pittsburgh lawmaker said his proposal last year was ahead of its time because “there are still some whose ideology keeps them from allowing Pennsylvania to have such an important bipartisan conversation.”
That sent him back to the drawing board. And after extensive conversations with stakeholders, Wheatley said the end product was the revised proposal that emerged Tuesday.
As was the case with his earlier proposal, Wheatley’s bill would funnel tax revenue from sales into reducing student debt, and funding after-school programs and affordable housing. It would also underwrite a “minority and women grant program to help disadvantaged populations benefit from this new industry,” as well as a public information campaign to “to educate the public on adult-use cannabis.”
On Tuesday, Wheatley wrote that his revised proposal would “[create] a dynamic permitting structure for growers, processors and dispensaries, allowing any size company to enter the legal cannabis market.
That would include “lowering initial application and permit fees to alleviate financial barriers. Renewal fees will be based on gross revenue; the higher a company’s gross revenue the higher their renewal fee, which is the fairest way to do it,” he wrote.
The bill calls for a 10 percent wholesale tax levied on business-to-business transactions. But growers and processors who “partner with an existing Pennsylvania Farm will not be required to pay the wholesale tax,” Wheatley wrote.
Consumers would get hit with an excise tax, on top of the state’s 6 percent sales tax. That excise tax would be levied at 6 percent for the first two years, rising to 12 percent fo the third and fourth years, and then 19 percent for each year after that, rendering a total tax rate of 25 percent in the out years.
“Keeping the tax initially low and allowing it to grow over time is a great example of the advice we heard during numerous meetings with stakeholders,” Wheatley wrote. “This is part of a critical theme of improvement, and why I felt introducing [the revised legislation] was so important. This legislation is the evidence of continued good work being done, even when we aren’t yet able to meet the final goal.”
John L. Micek is the Editor of the Pennsylvania Capital-Star where this story first appeared.