According to a story that appeared a couple of years back in The Philadelphia Inquirer, law enforcement in Pennsylvania were arresting about 21,000 people each year for possession of cannabis, and another 5,500 for growing marijuana. The column by Chris Goldstein, an editor at Freedom Leaf magazine, cited a report from the RAND Corp. think tank that estimated it costs $1,266 for the handling of every basic misdemeanor marijuana arrest.
That number rises to $8,600 for each prosecution of someone accused of growing the plant. Based on those figures, it predicted that Pennsylvania was spending more than $73 million a year on those cases, and that doesn’t include the costs of jail, prison, and supervision of those sentenced to parole and probation. What if Pennsylvania could not only wipe out those costs, but also gain millions from cannabis?
State Auditor General Eugene DePasquale said the state could earn $200 million a year by permitting recreational cannabis use and taxing it. At a recent news conference the auditor general noted that Colorado, with less than half the population of our state, is pulling in about $129 million annually through taxes on the farming and purchase of cannabis. In Washington state, that figure is $220 million.
DePasquale isn’t foolish enough to think such a move would find easy sledding in our Legislature, which has never had a reputation for being particularly visionary — or productive, for that matter. “It is an entirely fair and appropriate question to say, can this ever happen in Pennsylvania?” he said. In fact, it took years of pleas and protests from advocates before the Legislature finally approved use of medical marijuana in 2016, and that option won’t even be available to those who need it until next year, if all goes well.
House Republican spokesman Steve Miskin stated, “We don’t even have the medical cannabis program up and running yet, so it’s clearly a little premature to jump to the next step. While we’re appreciative of the auditor general’s multiple policy thoughts, as Pennsylvania and the nation is facing a serious drug problem, I’m not sure that legalizing a Schedule I narcotic is the best response.”