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BLOG: DePasquale supports recreational marijuana in Pa.
Recreational marijuana proponents in Pennsylvania just added a high-profile supporter in the form of the state's top financial watchdog.
Auditor General Eugene DePasquale held a news conference Monday at the Capitol in Harrisburg, and he said regulating recreational marijuana — as eight states already do — could bring in an estimated $200 million in annual tax revenue.
DePasquale used Colorado, which has brought in about $129 million in annual marijuana taxes, as an example, though he noted his estimate might be conservative because Pennsylvania's population is about twice as large as Colorado's.
DePasquale said the success other states have seen — and a shift in public opinion — could mean that Pennsylvania will be left behind if it doesn't consider moving quickly to pass legislation.
Other states have used voter referendums to pass legalization of recreational marijuana, but in Pennsylvania, that must be done through the Legislature, he said.
DePasquale admitted it's fair to wonder whether such legislation could feasibly pass in Pennsylvania, but he pointed to marriage equality and the creation of a medical-marijuana program as recent examples of laws many thought would never be enacted in the state.
JJ Abbott, a spokesman for Gov. Tom Wolf's office, wrote in an email statement that "the governor wants further study of the impact and implementation of full legalization on other states like Colorado before proceeding with that approach in Pennsylvania."
DePasquale said during his news conference that, in government, "let's study this issue" is often code for "let's never actually have to deal with this issue."
Sen. Daylin Leach, D-Montgomery and Delaware counties, has proposed a bill to legalize recreational marijuana, but the bill currently sits in the Senate Law and Justice Committee with only one co-sponsor, also a Democrat.
Leach worked with Sen. Mike Folmer, R-York, Dauphin and Lebanon counties, last session to pass a bill creating a state medical-marijuana program.
The state Department of Health is accepting applications until March 20 for permits to operate medical marijuana growing/processing facilities and dispensaries.
Department spokeswoman April Hutcheson said the department won't release the number of applications it has received until the deadline has passed. The department had estimated it would receive 900 applications prior to opening the application process on Feb. 20.
In addition to tax revenues, DePasquale pointed to cost savings from reducing marijuana-related arrests. Philadelphia, which decriminalized small amounts of marijuana in 2014, saved an estimated $4.1 million annually from decriminalization.
Abbott wrote that Wolf "has long supported the decriminalization of small amounts of marijuana to reduce the strain on our prison system and stop incarcerating so many people for nonviolent crimes like possession."
Decriminalization was recently proposed on a national scale by U.S. Rep. Tom Garrett, R-Virginia.
In a news release regarding the legislation, Garrett noted that the proposal is partially in response to Attorney General Jeff Sessions promising to crack down on federal marijuana crimes.
Marijuana remains federally illegal, marked as a Schedule I drug by the Drug Enforcement Administration.
DePasquale referenced Sessions' comments as "one of the craziest things I've ever heard," adding that President Donald Trump's administration would likely see a huge public backlash if it started sending in federal agents to arrest people consuming and distributing marijuana in states where voters have passed legalization.