Local lawmakers predict budget proposal to legalize Marijuana won't pass

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Local lawmakers predict budget proposal to legalize Marijuana won't pass

State Legislators Express Skepticism on Recreational Marijuana Legalization in Pennsylvania.

State Sen. Patrick Stefano said he sees opportunity for compromise with Gov. Josh Shapiro’s 2024 budget proposal that could benefit Pennsylvanians statewide.

But Shapiro’s call to legalize recreational marijuana will likely be dead on arrival in the state Senate – as are any ideas the move would generate $275 million in new income over the next year, he said Thursday.

Stefano, R-Fayette, and state Rep. Carl Walker Metzgar, R-Somerset, both told Somerset County Chamber of Commerce business leaders that lawmakers will need to look elsewhere to fund the 2024-2025 spending plan – and that they don’t plan to support the proposal.

“We’ve already talked about it, and I don’t think the votes are there in the Senate. We don’t need another sin tax,” Stefano said, noting the state is already heavily reliant on gambling revenue.

The fact nearby Ohio, Delaware and Maryland have legalized cannabis offers just as many lessons on why Pennsylvania shouldn’t follow suit, he said.

Metzgar acknowledged the idea “has legs” – recent polls have suggested two-thirds of Pennsylvanians support the step – but it hasn’t swayed his stance. Legal marijuana may only add to the state’s “societal problems,” he said.

As a legislator representing one of the state’s most rural regions, Metzgar has taken a hard stance on drug laws. That includes a bill he introduced that would require welfare recipients to be tested for drugs – marijuana included – to receive benefits.

Metzgar first introduced that bill in 2015, noting people working jobs across the state – from coal mines to warehouses – have to abide by the same rules.

He said the law would likely result in a savings that would match or exceed the $275 million Shapiro is seeking to generate.

Both lawmakers said efforts need to focus on ways to cut spending – not raise it.

Still, Stefano said there’s areas where the governor and Republican lawmakers in the House and Senate do see eye to eye.

He noted Shapiro didn’t include a carbon tax in his 2024 proposal – something other Democrats have floated.

And Stefano said he agrees with Shapiro’s proposal to ramp up economic development efforts to attract high-tech fields such as microchip manufacturing.

“Those are components we’re reliant on from overseas, and we can be making them right here. Not just in America but Pennsylvania,” he said.

Metzgar said increased education spending is also important – just not in line with the $5 billion increase Shapiro proposed over the past five years.

He said, as proposed, efforts to revamp the state education funding formula won’t bring significant benefits to Somerset County’s rural, shrinking districts.

Stefano said Shapiro’s plan isn’t as polarizing as many past proposals he’s seen presented in the state Capitol during his years in office.

But that doesn’t mean a 2024-25 budget will likely see final approval much sooner.

“We’re a split Legislature – and that makes it so much harder,” he said. “What gets everyone to (a compromise that will generate a majority vote) is that June 30 deadline.” 

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Region: Pennsylvania

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