In November, Colorado and Washington legalized the use of marijuana via voter referendum. A state legislator is pushing to add Pennsylvania to the list of 19 states which have adopted laws permitting the use of marijuana for either medicinal or recreational purposes.
State Senator Daylin Leach (D-Montgomery) calls the statewide ban on marijuana an irrational policy.
"Right now, you can smoke cigarettes you can drink beer, both far more dangerous and far more harmful than marijuana is and you're fine but, if you smoke marijuana you're a criminal, you can go to jail." Leach said. "People are arrested, people have to hire lawyers, people are put on probation, people are incarcerated every year, lives ruined and employment prospects for the future destroyed."
Leach said legalizing marijuana will also help the state from an economic standpoint. He estimates the state has spent about $325 million in prosecuting, monitoring and incarcerating marijuana offenders.
"We could save all of that money if we stop that policy, but that's only part of it," Leach said. "We could then tax the product, and create new industries around it that would benefit Pennsylvania to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars a year."
Leach's legislation treats marijuana much like alcohol. Pennsylvanians would not be allowed to resell marijuana, use the drug if under the age of 21, or while operating a vehicle. Leach added much of the opposition to legalizing the substance is based on "old wives' tales and irrational fears," like the assumption that marijuana is a gateway to harder drugs.
A proposal early last year by State Representative Mark Cohen (D-Philadelphia) to legalize marijuana for medicinal purposes never came up for a vote. A Franklin and Marshall College poll from 2010 indicated that while one in three respondents favored legalizing marijuana in Pennsylvania, four out of five supported legalizing it for medical use.