HARRISBURG — Opinion polls suggest most Pennsylvanians support the idea of legalizing the recreational use of marijuana by adults.
Lt. Gov. John Fetterman wants to find out if that’s true.
“This isn’t a guided discovery, this is about finding out where people are” on the issue, Fetterman said Friday. “It’s an important conversation.”
Auditor General Eugene DePasquale, who publicly endorses the idea of legalizing marijuana, has pointed to data showing that more than 8 percent of Pennsylvania adults already say they use marijuana recreationally. A September 2017 Franklin and Marshall poll found that 59 percent of those surveyed said they’d support legalizing recreational marijuana.
Fetterman, a Democrat, on Monday begins what he’s calling a 67-county listening tour to document the views of Pennsylvanians regarding the potential legalization of the drug. Monday, from 6 to 7:30 p.m., Fetterman will be at the Jewish Federation of Greater Harrisburg in Harrisburg. Tuesday, from 6 to 7:30 p.m., he will be at the Newport Public Library in Perry County.
On Feb. 16, Fetterman will be in Erie and Warren.
His Erie listening tour stop is from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at The Jefferson Educational Society of Erie, Jefferson Auditorium, 3207 State St. The Warren stop is from 3 to 4:30 p.m. at the Warren Public Library.
Pennsylvania is one of 33 states that allow marijuana to be used for medical reasons. Ten states have legalized recreational use of the drug — Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont and Washington. Proposals to legalize recreational marijuana are expected to move in the state capitols in New York and New Jersey, soon, as well. That was a trend Gov. Tom Wolf noted in suggesting it’s time for Pennsylvania to examine the issue.
While Wolf is now in his second term, Fetterman was just elected lieutenant governor in November after beating Mike Stack in the May primary. Fetterman was previously the mayor of Braddock, a borough near Pittsburgh. Fetterman has said that he became interested in the issue of legalizing marijuana while serving as Braddock mayor. In that role, he’d seen how the existing law was unfair because minority youth are more likely to be arrested on minor drug charges than white youth.
Friday, he declined to discuss the possible merits of legalizing marijuana, saying, “it would be putting the cart before the horse” with his listening tour not yet even started.
Fetterman said he wants to visit every county so that he can glean the public’s views comprehensively.
“I didn’t want to just say, ‘Let’s go to Philadelphia and Pittsburgh’ where it’s popular,” Fetterman said.
He is personally inviting lawmakers to join him on stage at these events so that they will have the opportunity to hear what the public has to say about the issue and share their thoughts if they want to do so.
Fetterman said he expects to hear a range of views though he said most of the feedback he’s gotten so far has been positive.
He said each listening tour stop will conclude with a public vote on the issue. That way, at the end of his tour, he’ll be able to show how much support there was at each event, he said. Fetterman also plans to produce a written report summarizing what the listening tour reveals, he said.
Legalizing marijuana may be popular with the public generally, but there is stiff resistance in the General Assembly and a number of statewide groups have come out against the idea.
When Wolf expressed openness to the idea of legalizing marijuana, Republican Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman of Centre County called it “reckless and irresponsible.”
The Pennsylvania DUI Association and AAA have both expressed concern with the potential for legalizing marijuana over potential negative impacts on traffic safety.
The Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association also opposes the idea, said Greg Rowe, interim executive director of the prosecutors’ group.
In addition to the traffic safety concerns, the DAs also point to public health concerns regarding marijuana use, Rowe said.
The prosecutors, however, don’t object to Fetterman’s planned tour, Rowe said.
“Listening tours are good, trying to understand public opinion, that’s a good thing,” he said.
Rowe added he expects Fetterman will hear from members of law enforcement on his tour.
“This is an issue that people are interested in,” Rowe said. “It’s important to get our voice heard.”
John Finnerty reports from the Harrisburg Bureau for The Meadville Tribune and other Pennsylvania newspapers owned by CNHI. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @cnhipa.