Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman, Senator Mario Scavello and state Representatives Rosemary Brown (R-189) and Maureen Madden (D-115) listened in as Monroe County constituents discussed recreational marijuana legalization on Sunday, April 7 in ESU’s Innovation Center.
Fetterman’s opening remarks laid down the ground rules for the proceedings. He wanted the audience to know that this “was a safe space where ideas from all sides can be exchanged” and joked that this would not be “like a Facebook comments section.”
Two microphones were set up at the front of each aisle for questions. The first person to speak after a few tentative seconds was Heidi Secord, president of the Pennsylvania Farmers Union.
Secord spoke about how the PFA has historically lobbied for hemp, industrial and local production. However, she did express concerns about how legalization will affect small farms.
The PFA president stressed that if the plant is fully legalized that the state needs to assist in “creating a fair, balanced economy” that will allow local farmers to benefit from the economic windfall.
Another resident, Patrick Murphy described an incident he had with police regarding marijuana despite the Monroe County native being a card-carrying medical cannabis user. Currently, he is awaiting sentencing after being pulled over and then subjected to a blood test.
Murphy pointed out that the Pennsylvania State Police spends upwards of $5.6 million annually on marijuana prohibition, a statistic corroborated by a 2017 Philly.com article that broke down the costs of the state’s current policies and enforcements.
Visibly emotional, Murphy concluded his remarks saying, “Prohibition is cruel.”
An ESU student, Luke Sterner, spoke out against legalization and even pushed back on the state’s medical marijuana initiatives.
Sterner asserted that the possible benefits of revenue were not worth the risks and dangers of legalization, questioning how people would be able to get a job if using marijuana.
He asked how “fathers would feel if their daughters got in a vehicle with someone who just smoked a bong.” Sterner then followed it up with a prediction, that “pot would be the demise of America.”
When the lieutenant governor asked him his views on medical marijuana that he was for “Nixon and Reagan’s war on drugs.”
Another ESU student, Benjamin Ace, vice president of the ESU democrats club spoke about his pro-legalization views.
“I think it’s been highly unfair for years,” Ace said, citing how the current laws disproportionately affect marginalized communities and target people of color.
Ace also hopes that the legalization will help improve the quality of information on the plant.
“I want it to be legalized for research purpose. I believe that is important,” Ace said.
Another Monroe County resident, 25-year-old Michael Mode, a software engineer was also pro-legalization.C
Mode pushed back on the assertions that those who use marijuana could not be trusted or could not be employed.
“I have clients that sometimes make millions of dollars in revenue, and they trust me. I smoke weed and I function fine,” Mode said.
Out of the 14 people that spoke in total, four were against legalization and ten were pro-legalization for recreational use.
After the open forum, Fetterman asked the attendees to vote by raising their hands for pro-legalization, against legalization, or still undecided/needing more information.
Rep. Madden alleviated residents’ concerns about workplace drug use and potential for DUIs by clarifying any legalization efforts will be done in cooperation with policy that ensures the safety of all citizens.
“It’s all within the realm of common sense and abiding by the law,” Madden said.
At the halfway mark of Fetterman’s listening tour, the former Braddock mayor is looking forward to the upcoming stops, emphasizing that voices in every county are equally important when creating a holistic picture of Pennsylvania’s views on recreational marijuana.
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