Should Pa. decriminalize or legalize marijuana? A Pittsburgh state rep. wants to study just that.

“We know that we can’t stay where we’re at, because status quo don’t grow,” state Rep. Ed Gainey said.

Katheirne Hitt / Flickr
Sarah Anne Hughes

HARRISBURG, Pa. — Pennsylvania is still working to get its medical marijuana program up and running, with a goal of doing so by early 2018.

But Pittsburgh state Rep. Ed Gainey is looking ahead to the future and wants Pennsylvania to study whether decriminalizing or legalizing marijuana would be right for the state.

“I think the study will shed light on which way the state should go,” Gainey told The Incline today. “There’s no question that in regards to looking forward, we need to be forward thinking.”

The Democrat plans to “introduce a resolution that directs the Joint State Government Commission to establish an advisory committee to conduct an ongoing study on the legalization or decriminalization of marijuana and to report its findings and recommendations to the House of Representatives,” he wrote in a co-sponsorship memo posted Monday. The advisory committee would include employees from state departments, law enforcement officials and experts on addiction and criminal justice.

“It needs to be a state issue,” he said, adding that the committee would examine not only tax revenue but police-community relations and the addiction crisis. The study would also provide the opportunity to hold hearings across the state, according to Gainey.

“We know that we can’t stay where we’re at, because status quo don’t grow,” he said.

Gainey already has an ally in Auditor General Eugene DePasquale, who renewed his call for Pennsylvania to legalize marijuana last week as state lawmakers tried to figure out how to fill another mammoth budget gap.

“It is time for this commonwealth to seriously consider this opportunity to generate hundreds of millions of dollars in new revenue, create more jobs, and help prevent thousands of people from financial and personal pain and ruin because they were caught with a joint,” DePasquale wrote in an op-ed.

Gainey, who said he’s been in contact with DePasquale, is already a proponent of decriminalization. He has once again introduced a bill to do so with the support of more than 20 of his colleagues. But that bill has questionable chances of getting out of the House Judiciary Committee, let alone a hearing. Gainey isn’t sure his study resolution will move forward either.

“I’m pushing it now,” he said. “That’s always the challenge, because again people like status quo. But all you have to do is look at this commonwealth to know status quo never grows. We have to find a way to improve humanity, not leave it the same.”

Gainey stressed that it’s time for Pennsylvania — which he pointed out is being ravaged by opioids — to have a “healthy state conversation” about marijuana decriminalization and legalization.

“Education removes ignorance,” he added.

Some municipalities like Philadelphia and Pittsburgh didn’t wait for the state to take action and have already decriminalized small amounts of pot. Medical marijuana champion Daylin Leach, a state senator from Philadelphia, has again introduced a bill to legalize marijuana, but he knows he’s going to need a Republican ally to make it happen.

While a study on the topic could provide needed ammunition for proponents, reports from the Joint State Government Commission can take years to complete. Gainey’s bill directs the commission to complete a report no later than a year after passage of his resolution.

Gainey said it’s preferable to get a study back “in a timely matter,” but he added that he doesn’t want to “move too fast.”

“We’ve got to have that conversation. That’s gonna take some time,” he said. “Pennsylvania’s never been a state that’s moved fast, but we have moved pretty accurately. A lot of people didn’t think we’d get medical marijuana pushed through. But again, you’ve got to keep up with the times.”