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Cannabis industry officials testified in front of the Pennsylvania House Health Committee on Monday and laid out a vision of what adult-use cannabis could look like in the commonwealth.

The Pennsylvania House Health Committee held an informational hearing on legalizing recreational adult-use marijuana at the Pennsylvania State Capitol in Harrisburg on Monday. 

The hearing featured testimony from representatives of the budding cannabis industry, and the overarching theme throughout the hearing focused on creating a well regulated cannabis market and including a focus on social equity in that expansion.

“The criminalization of adult use cannabis is part of a larger legacy of war on drugs that has disproportionately impacted Black and brown communities in this state for generations,” State Rep. Rick Krajewski (D-Philadelphia) said in his opening remarks.

“It is time for us to really have an honest conversation about how we can have responsible cannabis use, how we can use legalization to regulate cannabis use, and how we can do that in a way that is addressing the harms that have been caused to communities for generations under criminalization of cannabis.”

State Rep. Dan Frankel (D-Allegheny), chair of the House Health Committee, previously told The Keystone in an interview that House Democrats will introduce a comprehensive legalization bill in May or June.  

Monday’s House Health hearing comes on the heels of a recent Franklin and Marshall College poll showing that 63% of the Commonwealth’s residents support legalizing cannabis. 

Recreational cannabis use is currently legal in 24 states, including five of Pennsylvania’s neighboring states. If the commonwealth is going to legalize cannabis in the upcoming year, the hope is that it will likely follow Maryland’s approach, while trying to avoid the mistakes New York made when legalizing the substance. 

“It seems that Maryland seems to be the winner and New York is not the winner,” said Angela Zaydon, the government relations director for Trulieve, a dispensary with 192 locations in nine states, including Pennsylvania.

Maryland’s recreational marijuana market was up and operational 90 days after the state legalized the substance, and this is the transition industry officials are hoping for in Pennsylvania.

“The state of Maryland is an excellent example of a successful transition. They had regulations in place shortly after the law passed. They communicated extensively with the industry. They secured a method for payments and issuance of adult use licenses and for the adult use sales to begin exactly 90 days after the enactment of law,” Zaydon told the committee. 

Thanks to Maryland’s seamless transition, the state generated nearly double the expected amount of sales tax revenue in the first three months and six months following legalization, according to Zaydon. 

In contrast, New York legalized cannabis in March 2021, but did not have a recreational market or regulatory body in place until this past September. That gap allowed for the creation of a gray market with over 1,400 unlicensed dispensaries in New York City according to CNBC

“New York has done a horrific job of implementing their program,” Steve Reilly, a partner and general counsel for INSA Dispensaries, said to the committee.

“One of the reasons is that they legalized cannabis with no clear path to create a legal market quickly. So what that’s done is allowed the illicit market to take hold. If any of you have been in Manhattan recently, you can understand what that looks like.”

“I think it’s critically important for Pennsylvania to actually have a quick timeline for legalization implementation so that it doesn’t leave a vacuum for the elicit market to fill that,” Reilly said. 

  • Sean KitchenSean Kitchen

    Sean Kitchen is the Keystone’s political correspondent, based in Harrisburg. Sean is originally from Philadelphia and spent five years working as a writer and researcher for Pennsylvania Spotlight.

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