State Rep. Mark Cohen of Philadelphia announced this week his desire to introduce a bill next month that would legalize medical marijuana in Pennsylvania.
The bill, as explained by Cohen, would be of the same nature as the New Jersey legislation introduced earlier this year, which offers prescriptions of the drug to patients suffering from cancer, multiple sclerosis, and other diseases. New Jersey's governor has stated that he would sign the bill proposed in his state.
Aside from the potential benefits the bill would bring in the medical community, from an economic standpoint, Cohen also saw the bill as a way to increase state revenue.
"I think it can easily raise $25 million a year in taxes."
There are twelve states in the U.S. that have passed legislation permitting the use of marijuana for medical purposes. Alaska, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington have all passed medical marijuana legislation.
Pennsylvania is one of three states, including Michigan and New Jersey, that are currently considering legalizing the drug for medical use.
In recent weeks, California legislators have begun discussing and debating a new addition to their existing marijuana laws.
San Francisco Assemblyman Tom Ammiano proposed last month that California legalize and tax marijuana, a major - and still technically illegal - crop in the state, in an attempt to ease some of California's economic strain.
"We're all jonesing now for money," Mr. Ammiano said. "And there's this enormous industry out there."
Betty Yee, the state's tax collector and chairwoman of the California Board of Equalization, said that legal marijuana could potentially raise nearly $1 billion per year through a $50-per-ounce fee that would be charged to retailers.
Upwards of $400 million could also be raised through sales tax on marijuana sold to buyers. Currently, California's illegal marijuana crop is estimated to yield $14 billion annually.
The proposed law, formally addressed as AB 390, mirrors some of the key stipulations associated with alcohol related legislation in the United States. The law limits the purchasing demographic to adults over the age of 21 and also states that driving under the influence is a punishable offense.
Yee explained that due to the increasingly bleak budget problems, California has been dealing with recently, the proposal is worth talking about especially since there is a law already on the books regarding medical use of the drug.
"We know the product is out there, and we know marijuana is available to young people as well, but there's no regulatory structure in place," said Yee.
"I think it's an opportunity to begin the debate."
Several law enforcement groups have already objected to the idea of legal marijuana in the state, which would conflict with federal law.
As it stands now, the plant is still very much illegal on a federal level which means that although States themselves may have lenient policies regarding penalties for possession and legislation, allowing the drug to be used in specified medical instances, the U.S. Federal government can still raid and shut down medical marijuana distributors.
Lobbyists such as John Lovell, who works on behalf of several California law enforcement officials, says the plan would open the floodgates to a large, uncontrolled and therefore, un-taxed, black market while also increasing substance abuse problems.
"The last thing we need is yet another legal substance that is mind-altering," Lovell said.
Scott Pattison, executive director of the National Association of State Budget Officers, said many lawmakers wanted to avoid tapping more traditional tax sources during an economic downturn.
"What's pushing it is this incredible desire to raise revenue," Pattison said.
"But it's coupled with the desire not to raise the general and sales and income taxes."
By David Baker
March 30, 2009
The Student Newspaper of West Chester University