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Could recreational marijuana help fund COVID-19 recovery? The Governor & Lt. Gov. say yes

The Governor & Lt. Governor made another push for lawmakers to draft legislation. But some Republicans say it was a 'bad policy' from the beginning

Recreational marijuana is once again being raised as a possible solution to help fund the economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. But, Senate Republicans said movement on the issue should not be expected this fall. 

Thursday afternoon, Governor Tom Wolf and Lt. Governor John Fetterman renewed their calls for legislation to legalize recreational marijuana. They said legalization of adult-use cannabis will provide a new revenue stream to direct toward economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.

"We have a desperate need for the economic boost that the legalization of cannabis can provide," said Gov. Wolf.

The Governor said he would like the legislation to earmark funding for grants for historically disadvantaged businesses and he would like it to provide for restorative justice programs.

"Cannabis prohibition is a true minority viewpoint in Pennsylvania. A small minority of Pennsylvanian's oppose the legalization of cannabis. So, this isn't shocking. This isn't something controversial," said Fetterman, who added "we know we're right and we're inviting the Republicans to the table to say we need the revenue. We need the jobs. We need the freedom. And, we need the criminal justice reform."

Sen Majority Leader Jake Corman said movement on the issue likely won't happen this fall, releasing a statement that said in part “we look forward to receiving specifics about his broad concepts including who would regulate this new industry, where it would be sold, strategies for enforcement and plans to minimize the impacts on the medical marijuana industry. Like with any issue, a bill would need to work its way through the Senate Committee process to be vetted.”

Meantime, other Republicans believe the Governor isn't focused enough on current problems such as getting people back to work and getting students back to the classroom.

"The Governor has said over the last several weeks that the number one goal that we should be focusing on is getting our children back into the classroom and that anything that distracts from that is something we shouldn't be doing right now," said Jason Gottesman, spokesperson for Pennsylvania's House Republican Caucus who called the legalization legislation push a 'bad policy from the beginning.' "I question what does calling for the legalization of recreational marijuana right now do to get our children back in the classroom safely? It makes no sense. It's contrary. It's inconsistent. And, that's been the Governor's modus operandi during the entire pandemic."

When FOX43 asked the Governor to respond, he said "I think we should be focusing on programs that will help people. That's one of them: getting kids back to school. Focusing on things that might help people who are suffering from all kinds of things. But, we're going to need money for that. This is a heaven sent opportunity to do that."

Gottesman noted, however, that Pennsylvania is under an opioid disaster declaration and he said substance abuse is already an issue during the pandemic.

With many kids attending school virtually, he added children are spending more time inside their homes.

"Substance abuse issues are devastating families as a result of this pandemic's quarantines and shutdowns," said Gottesman who added "we shouldn't be legalizing another one and creating more problems in the home."

Gottesman questioned how the revenues from legalization would be utilized by the state. He said it would lead to bigger government, new spending and more government programs while the state is already "in the hole as a result of his (the Governor's) shutdown orders."

He added legalization revenue "goes to new spending and new programs and doesn't do anything to help us out as a result of his economic shutdown."

"We shouldn't be legalizing an illegal drug just so we can tax it and spend the money because of it. That doesn't make any sense," he said.

The Governor used those same words when he spoke about the arguments by Republicans, telling FOX43 "it doesn't make any sense at all.... are they saying this is a time when we don't need hundreds of millions of dollars of additional revenue that could go to help people who are hurting because of the pandemic?" 

It was just last month that the Governor asked lawmakers to send him a bill to legalize the use of recreational marijuana and outlined how he thinks the state should spend more than $1.3 billion of federal coronavirus relief funds. 

RELATED: Gov. Wolf asks state legislature to legalize recreational marijuana, spend remaining $1.3 billion in federal COVID-19 relief funds

RELATED: FOX43 Capitol Beat: Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman talks schools, sports, and legalizing marijuana

The Governor first called on the General Assembly to seriously debate legalization of recreational marijuana back on September 25, 2019. But he said Thursday, "nothing's been done a year later. So, I'm renewing that call." Both the Governor and Lt. Governor also pointed back to the report drafted after the Lt. Governor's listening tour across all 67 counties that they claim found a majority of people support legalization. 

RELATED: “I am calling for legalization”: Gov. Wolf pushes lawmakers to debate recreational marijuana in PA

"For the Governor to say that anything is a recovery plan without actually having a recovery plan that opens up our businesses, gets people back to work safely and gets our children back to school safely is absolutely ridiculous," said Gottesman.

"This idea that we have addiction challenges in the Commonwealth, safe, legal access to cannabis is exactly what we need to combat that," said Fetterman. "I think quite frankly they're (the Republicans) trying to deflect because they know it's popular. They know a majority of their constituents want this. They know a significant majority of all Pennsylvanians want this. And, I can't for the life of me understand why they, as to the Governor's point, they would turn down hundreds of millions of dollars in annual revenue, tens of thousands of unsubsidized jobs, at a point when we've never needed it more right now here in the Commonwealth."

Read the full statement from Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman (R-34): 

“It was Winston Churchill who said: ‘Never let a good crisis go to waste.’ We have long maintained that state laws should be changed because they are good policy for the people of Pennsylvania – not because of their potential to generate money. We do appreciate though the Governor recognizing the need for the General Assembly to play a role in this.

“We look forward to receiving specifics about his broad concepts including who would regulate this new industry, where it would be sold, strategies for enforcement and plans to minimize the impacts on the medical marijuana industry. Like with any issue, a bill would need to work its way through the Senate Committee process to be vetted. Movement on this issue should not be expected his fall.”

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