EDITORIAL: Legal pot to the rescue?

Dispatch Editorial Board
James MacWilliams prunes a marijuana plant that he is growing indoors in Portland, Maine. Photo By Robert F. Bukaty

Marijuana legalization in the U.S. has for years been one economic downturn from widespread adoption.

Enter the coronavirus.

Gov. Tom Wolf's call Tuesday for the legalization of recreational pot certainly wasn't a shocker. Wolf's said that before and his lieutenant governor, John Fetterman, is an outright advocate for legalized weed.

Fetterman's lobbying effort is rightly focused on the egregiously disproportionate effect marijuana enforcement has had on Black and brown communities.

Seemingly every available data set only reinforces Fetterman's argument: The criminalization of marijuana — justified decades ago through racist tropes and fear mongering — forces minorities, who don't use the drug more than white Americans, into the criminal justice system at rates that are neither acceptable nor reasonable.

More:A windfall or up in smoke?: Revenue picture hazy for states looking to legalize marijuana

More:'End ... this ridiculous and racist war on cannabis': Closer Look

The War on Drugs, perhaps by design, targets Black communities.

But the strongest argument isn't always the most politically viable.

Wolf's claim Tuesday — focusing solely on the potential tax boon should the economically battered state legalize recreational marijuana use — tugs at Republicans' purse strings and, thereby, their supposed Reaganistic sensibilities. 

What's yet to be seen is if Republicans, owners of the state Legislature, actually meant all the bluster about "financial responsibility" and "balanced budgets."

State revenues plunged following Wolf's mandated business shutdowns. The 2019-20 budget, a once promising financial cycle, closed in July with a $3.2 billion shortfall, reported Spotlight PA. And to say the piecemeal reopening has been sluggish would be an understatement.

Gov. Tom Wolf talks with a group during his press conference at PA CareerLink in York Tuesday, July 28, 2020. Wolf was highlighting the importance of job-finding resources in light of the unemployment cause by the COVID-19 outbreak in the state. Bill Kalina photo

Wolf's Republican opponents in the Legislature have blasted his closure orders, and his use of executive power, largely because the damage done to business and industry.

At least, on this point, everyone can agree that the financial effects are widespread and could, much like the 2008 market crash, do lasting damage to Pennsylvania's budget.

Like a man on a carrot-loving mule, Wolf on Tuesday dangled an estimated $90 million in front of Republicans' collective noses. What's yet to be seen is just how stubborn lawmakers really are. 

It's likely the responses from the legislative majority will be at one time predictable and tired. They'll talk about "the children," while moving to ax key social programs. They'll distort studies about traffic fatalities, which remain inconclusive, in Colorado and Washington state, where marijuana has for years been legal. They'll roll out leaders of police organizations who, for decades, have made a cottage industry out of "educating" children about drug use through fear and hyperbole instead of facts and reason.

And they'll score a point with the lack of available road-side sobriety testing available to officers conducting traffic stops.

But, at he end of the day, Pennsylvania makes no bones about taxing its peoples' vices. Casinos, booze and cigarettes are obvious examples.

Relative to those three sins, marijuana seems tame.

That's not to say pot is without its downfalls. Smoking it is carcinogenic, researchers say. Its use could have long-lasting effects on young brains, studies suggest.

But anyone who believes marijuana isn't already widely available and easily accessible should go bridge shopping in Brooklyn.

Society has given up on the failed drug war of the past 60 years. Most Americans realize that marijuana's pitfalls are minor next to the other vices society already accepts, and the costs of enforcement are too high.

And, frankly, the state needs the cash.