Area lawmakers not sold on marijuana legalization

Local legislators gave a tepid reception to efforts of one state senator who is trying to legalize marijuana in Pennsylvania.

Sen. Daylin Leach, D-Wayne, said he will introduce a bill this year to make pot legal.

Leach previously tried to move legislation last year to allow the use of medicinal marijuana. The bill did not advance.

“My bill will legalize the consumption of marijuana for adults over the age of 21, without regard to the purpose of that consumption,” he wrote in a recent editorial.

Leach said money spent to deter and prosecute arrests of those who possess or sell marijuana – a substance he said is less dangerous than beer or children’s cough syrup – has been wasted for years. He said the state should legalize it and tax it for revenue.

Citing statistics from the Office of National Drug Control Policy, Leach said marijuana-related arrests have cost Pennsylvania more than $325 million since 2006.

“Further, prohibition of marijuana has done what it did in the case of alcohol in the 1930s. It has created a dangerous black market with violent and bloody turf wars that kill many people in our country and elsewhere,” he wrote.

Despite the dangers of alcohol and tobacco consumption, “if you smoke marijuana you are a criminal and can go to jail. This horrific policy must end. People around the nation are realizing that,” Leach said.

Voters in Colorado and Washington recently approved the legalization of recreational marijuana. Sixteen more states have some form of legalized weed, whether it’s for medicinal purposes or through decriminalized possession laws.

But state Rep. Garth Everett, R-Muncy, said Leach’s proposal probably wouldn’t get too far in the Legislature. He said federal laws that prohibit the possession, sale and cultivation of marijuana would be difficult for lawmakers here to overcome.

“I don’t see how that would work,” said Everett, who added his office has received some emails of support for such measures.

“You’re setting people up for being convicted for possibly being in possession of a small amount of marijuana” if Leach’s bill is passed. “I don’t know if now’s the time to do it when it’s still a federal crime,” Everett said.

Everett said Pennsylvania is not traditionally a state that embraces progressive reforms.

“I don’t think this will be any different,” he said. “We haven’t even privatized our state stores yet.”

Taxing marijuana should it ever overcome legal barriers wouldn’t be a bad idea, however, according to Everett.

“I think it’s great for Daylin to start the conversation,” he said.

Although state Rep. Rick Mirabito, D-Williamsport, said he has not seen Leach’s proposal, he said marijuana may have a place for medicinal purposes.

“I’ve had people from all over the political spectrum talk to me in favor of that,” he said.

State Sen. E. Eugene Yaw, R-Loyalsock Township, said he has not received many comments of support for legalized marijuana.

“Sen. Leach represents a different constituent base than I do,” Yaw said.