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Legalizing marijuana in Pa.: Why this GOP state senator and ex-U.S. marshal says it's time

marijuana plant

A former federal law enforcement officer turned Pennsylvania lawmaker became the second Republican state senator to publicly endorse legalizing recreational marijuana in the Keystone State.

York County state Sen. Mike Regan, the chairman of the Senate Law and Justice Committee, circulated a co-sponsorship memo late Monday to colleagues soliciting support for a bill to legalize marijuana for those 21 and older.

He said the revenue could be used to fund police, fight violent crime in cities and pay for afterschool programs in disadvantaged neighborhoods. 

“Our law enforcement agencies and justice system do not have the manpower or time to handle these minor marijuana offenses that clog our courts and produce little return,” he wrote.

“Instead, police and prosecutors need to focus on protecting our residents from the violent criminals and large-scale drug importers that are also dealing in heroin and fentanyl, which kill thousands of Pennsylvanians each year.”

The impact of Regan's support is uncertain. The Republican-led General Assembly has yet to move forward with any measures to legalize marijuana in Pennsylvania, even as neighboring New Jersey and New York prepare to have sales at some point next year.

Regan said marijuana sold on the streets “is often laced with illicit drugs and toxic additives” and those that use the drug should have “access to a safe and trusted product.”

Legalizing marijuana would also cut off a financial stream for drug cartels and gangs, he said.

A supporter of medical marijuana while in the state House, Regan said the health benefits are now clear with more than 500,000 Pennsylvanians enrolled in the state program.

“The lives of so many have changed with the safe use of medical marijuana,” he wrote.  

Medical marijuana in Pa.: What new changes were just made

Fetterman: 'This is significant'

Polls have consistently shown that about two-thirds of Pennsylvanians support legalizing marijuana for adults. Many Democratic lawmakers and both Gov. Tom Wolf and Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, a U.S. Senate candidate, support legalization.  

After Regan’s memo was released, Fetterman posted on Twitter about it, saying at one point: “This is significant.” 

In his memo, Regan notes that 36 states have medical marijuana programs, and 18 of those, as well as Washington, D.C., have legalized recreational marijuana for adults, including New York and New Jersey.

Pennsylvania, he warned, could lose millions to those neighboring states.

“We will soon experience border bleed with Pennsylvanians contributing to the tax base of those states and helping to pay for their roads and bridges,” he said.

Besides legalizing marijuana and specifying funding recipients, Regan said his bill would also:  

Establishes a new regulatory control board  Remove penalties for use and possession by adults  Allow for the purchase and possession of guns regardless of marijuana use  Provide for “social equity, inclusion, and assistance for business entry into the industry”  Help Pennsylvania’s agriculture industry  Develop education and deterrents for underage use and possession of marijuana 
Sending a portion of revenue to state police, Regan said, would negate the need for the agency to tap into the state’s motor license fund, which it has for years.

In turn, it would free up millions of dollars for PennDOT to spend on infrastructure projects and eliminate the need for its bridge tolling plan, he said. 

“Further,” he wrote in his memo, “a strong infrastructure will lead to more job creators and entrepreneurs investing in Pennsylvanian’s economic future.” 

Laughlin was first GOP senator to support

Many of Regan’s points were made earlier this year by Erie County state Sen. Dan Laughlin, who in February became the first Republican senator to support legalizing adult-use marijuana in Pennsylvania when he co-sponsored legislation with state Sen. Sharif Street, D-Philadelphia.

Under that bill, non-violent offenders in jail for marijuana-related convictions would have their records expunged, a concession not specifically offered by Regan in his memo.  

"I know there are many people who believe this will be a large revenue stream, but that's at the very bottom of my list of reasons to introduce this bill," Laughlin, a likely candidate for governor, said in February.

"This is where we are as a country," he added. "The majority of people want this legalized and regulated." 

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