PA House Democrat wants to sell legal cannabis in State liquor stores

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If Pennsylvania does legalize recreational cannabis, a union-friendly Democrat from the Philadelphia suburbs wants to give consumers a one-stop shopping experience.

On Wednesday, Rep. David Delloso, D-Delaware, rolled out a plan that would not only legalize recreational marijuana for people aged 21 and older, it would also allow cannabis to be sold through Pennsylvania’s more than 600 state-owned liquor stores.

All revenue would be deposited into the state’s General Fund, where it could be allocated for any number of projects. At a Capitol news conference Wednesday, Delloso suggested property tax relief, school funding, or social justice causes as possible beneficiaries of the roughly $581 million expected windfall.

The number comes from a 2018 report by Democratic Auditor General Eugene DePasquale. He proposed a 35 percent sales tax on marijuana in his report.

Delloso said he’s hoping that state-controlled marijuana sales would mean less exploitation of workers and communities.

“What I’m afraid of is if we don’t sell [marijuana] in the state stores, that big corporate interests throughout the United States are going to come to Pennsylvania and they’re going to put corner stores up that won’t provide family sustaining jobs, and all the profits are going to leave Pennsylvania,” he said.

He added that state store employees — many of whom are represented by the United Food and Commercial Workers union — are already trained to sell liquor and wine. Delloso argued that this makes them a more trustworthy sales force for a restricted substance like cannabis.

In an emailed statement, PLCB spokeswoman Elizabeth Brassell said that the board “generally [leaves] policy discussions regarding the future of this agency up to the General Assembly and the Governor.” 

“If, however, a new law presents the PLCB with additional or different duties and responsibilities, we would adapt accordingly,” she added.

No other states sell marijuana through state-owned stores, but at least 11 plus D.C. have legalized small amounts of cannabis for recreational sale, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

The state’s marijuana industry group, the Pennsylvania Cannabis Coalition, has endorsed an adult-use market for recreational marijuana in the commonwealth. But the group came out hard against Delloso’s proposal.

In a statement, coalition President Bob Pease questioned the constitutionality of the plan. 

Pease also said it doesn’t go far enough in ensuring that marijuana legalization brings those harmed by the drug war into the burgeoning industry.

“Any proposal that advances Adult Use must place social justice considerations at the forefront,” Pease wrote. “Granting a state monopoly more power at the expense of those victimized by prohibition is unacceptable.”

Delloso’s bill would also expunge marijuana records, but does not feature any targeted investments.

Another proposal, sponsored by Rep. Jake Wheatley, D-Allegheny, would legalize cannabis and expunge related convictions. Sales tax revenue would be sent to the General Fund, but taxes on the industry itself would be placed into a restricted fund.

Those dollars could be spent on reducing student debt, funding local public defenders, after-school programs, and affordable housing among other investments to aid communities impacted by harsh drug enforcement.

Gov. Tom Wolf recently came out in favor of marijuana legalization, but House Republicans have signaled that it will not be considered.

At a Wednesday event on an expedited pardons process for marijuana convictions, Wolf said he has his own views about how cannabis should be regulated, which is why he wants the Legislature to engage in a conversation. 

Even if the odds are long, House Democratic Whip Jordan Harris, of Philadelphia, said that seeing different proposals on legalization should be the next step in the discussion.

“What we need to do is stop having a debate over whether we legalize cannabis, and move to how we legalize it,” Harris said during Wednesday’s news conference.

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