Recreational marijuana town hall brings out hundreds in York, majority support
A majority of attendees offered support for recreational marijuana at Lt. Gov. John Fetterman's local stop on his statewide tour to hear what voters have to say about legalization.
The Democrat — a supporter of recreational marijuana — brought out hundreds of residents who packed into York College's DeMeester Recital Hall on Tuesday, March 19. It was the 21st of Pennsylvania's 67 counties he intends to visit.
"You're here to weigh in and participate in public policy issues, and that's the height of participatory democracy," Fetterman said, avoiding talking about his own opinions throughout the town hall.
State Reps. Carol Hill-Evans, D-York City, and Mike Jones, R-York Township, and Democratic County Commissioner Doug Hoke all sat with Fetterman on the stage. Like him, they refrained from giving their input.
Public opinion: Yet those in attendance made their opinions loud and clear. And although those who spoke varied in whether or not they support legalization, a hand-count vote showed a majority were in favor of it.
Donna DeAndrea, of Springettsbury Township, said she supports legalization after her 12-year struggle with opioid addiction.
"(I used opiates) to the point where I was getting them overseas," she said, acknowledging people are bound to abuse cannabis, just as they do legal substances. "I used cannabis to get off of opiates. I'm a firm believer God didn't give us anything we didn't need. He put that plant on this earth for a reason."
On the other side of addiction, Kevin Cummings, of Dillsburg, said he disapproves of legalization because to him, marijuana was a gateway drug. He is now 30 years sober.
"I first tried marijuana at 14 years old," Cummings said. "By the time I turned 21, it also gravitated toward smoking hash, joints laced with angel dust and cocaine. I'd buy an ounce of marijuana and flush it down the toilet crying, wanting to stop."
Others opposed to legalization noted the potential increased access children would have to marijuana and the hazards that would come with it.
"What effect is this going to have on the youngest of children?" asked Bob Eyer, of York Haven. "Is it going to encourage them to start earlier? Is it going to make it more readily available than it already is?"
Yet some, including those who work with children, were OK with recreational marijuana, as evidenced by York City school board President Margie Orr, who said the revenue could help fund less-affluent school districts such as hers.
"Why allow the people out there selling this pot, and no money is derived from it legally?" she said. "It's never going to go away. ... If marijuana is going to support my schools, I'm all for it."
Further concerns, including among supporters, arose about the economics of marijuana. Some battled over whether the state would actually benefit from marijuana revenues, and others were more worried about the reason for taxation.
"I don't want recreational marijuana to be a cash cow," said Gus Tatlas, of the York County Libertarian Party. "I'm perfectly fine with it having the same sales tax as other products. But I don't like the sin tax. I don't like people trying to legislate morality. It's not possible."
Why the town halls? The series of town halls comes after Gov. Tom Wolf in December said it was time for the state to consider legalizing the recreational use of cannabis. Such a move would be a large leap from the state's medical marijuana program, which was signed into law in 2016.
Ten states and Washington, D.C., have legalized recreational marijuana.
Last year, Auditor General Eugene DePasquale calculated such a move in Pennsylvania would generate roughly $580 million in new revenue from taxing and regulating marijuana. Nearly 60 percent of the state's residents also approve of legalization, according to a 2017 Franklin & Marshall College poll.
While recreational legalization has been floated before — with opposition from Republicans — the most recent effort comes from state Rep. Jake Wheatley, D-Allegheny County, whose bill remains in the House Health Committee.
State Sens. Sharif Street, D-Philadelphia, and Daylin Leach, D-Montgomery County, put out a memo Monday, March 18, to build support in the Senate.
Republican leadership has already voiced opposition to the measure, meaning success is unlikely in the Republican-controlled Legislature.
Those unable to attend any of the recreational marijuana town halls can submit their feedback online at www.governor.pa.gov/recreational-marijuana-feedback/#Dates. Almost 25,000 residents have done so, Fetterman said.
— Logan Hullinger can be reached at email@example.com or via Twitter at @LoganHullYD.