Why not? It could raise $$
A Philadelphia lawyer and a Shamokin area mother are among those who favor Pennsylvania taking the same steps that Colorado and Washington did when voters on Nov. 6 approved the legalization of small amounts of marijuana.
They believe regulation is still required, but believe legalizing pot could generate government revenue and help police concentrate on more serious crimes.
"Lawmakers hate to use the unpopular term 'tax', but if it were legalized, like other vices in the state are, it would be a great help," said Daniel-Paul Alva, a former assistant district attorney in Philadelphia and a member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP).
The organization is comprised of former prosecutors and police officers who believe the 40-plus year war on drugs has been an incredibly expensive, destructive failure, and needs to end.
"You have the police and the courts, both of whom have limited budgets, spending their resources with negative results, instead of going after the more serious crimes going on in the world." Alva said.
A survey earlier this year by the Rasmussen Reports showed that 56 percent of likely voters now favor legalizing and regulating marijuana in a similar manner to the way alcohol and tobacco cigarettes are regulated.
Also, LEAP points to an FBI report showing more than 750,000 marijuana arrests and more than 1.5 million total drug arrests in 2011. That equates to one drug arrest every 21 seconds, with almost half of them for marijuana. The report also showed that 81.8 percent of drug arrests were for possession only.
Son not 'pothead'
Those convicted of pot possession may face only a fine, but they also suffer from the stigma of a "drug-user" label, said one local mother, who spoke only on the condition that her name and her son's not be used.
She said she and other family members, and her son, are "hassled" by police in local stores about his marijuana use.
"It's ongoing," she said.
But she describes her son as a "well-educated man," with college degrees, not a stereotypical "pothead." She hates the bad reputation marijuana has.
"Marijuana is a drug that is less addictive than alcohol, she said.
She believes the state could regulate marijuana similar to how it regulates alcohol. And she thinks people should be allowed to grow their own - not unlike people can brew their own beer.
"Keep it illegal to drive under the influence of marijuana, and if it's regulated, it won't be any more expensive than what it is currently being sold for on the street corner," she believes.
Regulation could also keep it out of the hands of minors, she said.
Vices making $$
Alva said Pennsylvania is already exploiting vices in the name of revenue production.
"Gambling is a vice, but yet we have a state lottery system in place that benefits senior citizens, and legal casinos that provide property tax relief," he said. "It's still a vice, but it's OK because it's doing some good. Drinking is a vice, but yet we have the largest state-run system for it, and get income from that as well."
Alva says the key to possibly changing the law is to demonstrate that current statutes are antiquated.
"We need to engage our lawmakers into discussions about these draconian laws we have about marijuana," Alva said.
For example, the most a marijuana plant will harvest is about two ounces of smokeable product.
"However, a full plant in Pennsylvania counts as one pound for sentencing purposes," he said. "Three plants gets you a mandatory jail-time sentence."
Alva and the local mother agree that, with today's aging population, changing the law is a tough sell.
"When I went to school, we had drug education and were led to believe that you would bake your child in the oven 20 years later because of smoking weed," the concerned mother said. "The people that were taught that are the ones who predominately vote now. That's what we are fighting against."
"Pennsylvania is a conservative state, and certainly there would be issues with it being imported, but it can be grown here and it is being grown here," Alva said. "Let's all go with the flow and make the best of it."