Legalize marijuana now: There are no good reasons left for locking people up

York Dispatch Editorial Board

How do you know it's time to legalize marijuana?

When a former U.S. marshal who votes with the Republicans on virtually every other issue comes around on this one.

State Sen. Mike Regan is about as conservative as it gets — and even he's planning to introduce a bill that would allow for the recreational use of pot for those 21 and older.

A lot has changed in recent years.

Gov. Tom Wolf once vehemently opposed it but gradually evolved into an enthusiastic proponent. Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, now running for the Senate, went on a highly publicized listening tour. Meanwhile, a recent Muhlenberg College poll found a record number — 58% — of respondents supporting legalization.

.

Perhaps it was only a matter of time.

Marijuana is still in legal limbo at the federal level but, at most recent count, 36 states and D.C. have some form of medical cannabis while 18 and D.C. permit recreational use. Pennsylvania passed its medical marijuana bill in 2016 and opened its first dispensary two years later.

Despite a lot of early opposition, medical pot eventually found strong support among Republicans. They were swayed by the heart-wrenching stories of people who found relief in the drug and, perhaps even more persuasively, the prospect of a big new revenue-generating industry.

But even as the industry took off — Pennsylvania's medical marijuana tax has generated $9.2 million so far this year, according to the Department of Revenue — state GOP legislative leaders dragged their feet on the other side: recreational.

When asked about Regan's bill, Senate GOP Majority Leader Jake Corman was conspicuously silent. As recently as last fall, though, he indicated it wasn't a top priority for him.

But these folks aren't offering any arguments against it anymore.

At least not publicly.

Because there really aren't any.

Let us be clear: Young people should not be toking up. There's plenty of evidence that cannabis usage could lead to significant developmental and cognition problems.

And, anecdotally, we all know adults for whom pot becomes a crutch. Instead of fixing whatever problems exist in their lives, they numb out with CBD and bliss out with THC. One study from King's College London found that long-term cannabis users produce less dopamine and, perhaps consequently, report less motivation.

What other substance numbs people out and robs them of motivation when consumed in large quantities?

Yes: Alcohol.

And yet Pennsylvania seems to always be finding new ways to expand access to alcohol. Please don't get us started on those single-serve containers of wine you can now purchase at many gas stations. If you think that doesn't lead to more drunken driving, you're delusional.

But we digress.

As Regan points out, the state's medical marijuana experience proved there was a market for this drug, that it could be safely consumed and that we could fairly regulate its use. Oh, and we could make lots of money off it, too.

Recent studies have shown no correlation between legalization and increased teenage cannabis use, a common argument against it — perhaps, the researchers said, because of how tightly regulated the industry is. But legal weed could help divert more users away from opioids and other drugs that are likely to be used.

It also would end a prohibition that has had a disastrous impact on the lives of so many people locked up for a relatively minor offenses.

Really, folks. It's time.