Wheatley made the announcement during a Sept. 24 press conference and said that the legislation would make recreational marijuana legal for adults in the state who are 21 years of age and older. Wheatley launched an online petition to legalize recreational marijuana on Aug.21 and says that his legislation, called House Bill 2600, will expunge criminal records for people convicted of crimes involving marijuana.
"Those who have criminal histories related to cannabis would be expunged, and professional and driver's licenses that were revoked or suspended due to cannabis-related crimes would be reinstated," said Wheatley. "For far too long, the criminal justice system has unfairly punished Pennsylvanians, especially minorities, who are caught with cannabis," he concluded.
Criminal justice was an important motivator for the legislation to legalize recreational marijuana in the state. African-Americans are 8.2 times more likely than Caucasians to be arrested for marijuana possession in Pennsylvania. The proposed legislation also includes a diversity initiative which provides incentives for hiring minorities and women.
Legalizing recreational marijuana in the state could also be lucrative. Pennsylvania Auditor General Eugene DePasquale says that the state could earn more than $581 million annually by legalizing recreational marijuana.
House Bill 2600 Would Amend Medical Marijuana Bill
House Bill 2600 would use the state's medical marijuana program as its foundation and allow people living in Pennsylvania to possess up to six cannabis plants. Public consumption of marijuana would still be illegal, as would operating a motor vehicle under the influence of the drug. At least 52,000 people have registered so far for the medical marijuana program in Pennsylvania.
The governor is not convinced that the state is ready for full-scale legalization and says that the medical marijuana program is sufficient. "What we've done with medical marijuana is to fill a gap that existed in terms of doctors' options for treating their patients," said Gov. Tom Wolf (D).
Wheatley disagrees and says that now is the time to legalize marijuana and balance the budget. Wheatley would need the Republicans in the House to call for a vote before the legislation could proceed. House Bill 2600 has 12 co-sponsors so far, all Democrats.
A 2017 poll conducted by Franklin and Marshall found that almost 60 percent of voters in Pennsylvania support legalizing marijuana.