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Senator To Introduce Legislation To Legalize MJ

If state Sen. Daylin Leach gets his way, Pennsylvania would become the next state to legalize marijuana. The Democratic senator, who represents the 17th District in suburban Philadelphia, is to introduce legislation at a press conference today in Harrisburg to decriminalize the use of marijuana for any purpose in Pennsylvania.

Leach hopes to end what he calls the “prohibition” of marijuana and treat it the same as certain types of alcohol – regulated by the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board and sold at Wine and Spirits Shops or by licensed beer distributors.

John Tew, Leach’s legislative director, said existing laws are not effective.

“Prohibition doesn’t make sense and hasn’t worked,” Tew said. “Most of the harm of marijuana comes from the prohibition than it does from the smoking of the plant.”

A local drug abuse counselor who supports the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes said Leach’s proposal is well-intended but worries that across-the-board legalization will harm children.

“We’ve succeeded in keeping it out of the hands of physicians, but we can’t keep it out of the hands of 12-year-olds,” said Ed Pane, executive director of Serento Gardens Alcoholism and Drug Services in Hazleton and a board member of Pennsylvanians for Medical Marijuana.

Under Leach’s plan, approved stores would sell marijuana only to people over the age of 21, who could not resell the drug or use it in public or before driving. Also, employers would be free to prohibit workers from using marijuana.

Other senators, including one serving the Hazleton area, are flatly opposed to legalizing marijuana in any form.

Sen. John Gordner, R-Berwick, said he would oppose Leach’s legislation, noting that it is not yet up for formal consideration.

“There is no support from my senatorial judiciary,” Gordner said.

Sen. John Yudichak, D-Plymouth Township, did not return calls for comment on Leach’s proposal.

Kline Township police Chief John Petrilla believes any benefits of Leach’s proposal are not worth the risk.

“It would be a mistake,” Petrilla said. “There was talk about legalization of marijuana since the 1960s. It hasn’t been done for a reason. It alters the state of mind. I believe it’s a gateway drug. I feel more people might want to try it and they may be more prone to try other things.”

However, Leach said criminalizing marijuana does far more harm than good.

“This policy destroys lives. We want to stop that from happening. We want to stop spending that money” on enforcing the current law, he said.

Neill Franklin, executive director of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, is a retired Baltimore narcotics officer who will attend today’s press conference as an advocate for the legislation.

“Cops see the ineffectiveness and harms of marijuana prohibition up close, every day,” Franklin said. “Keeping marijuana illegal doesn’t significantly reduce use, but it does give tax-free profits to violent gangs and cartels that control the black market.”

According to Leach, Pennsylvania can not only save a significant amount of money by ending the war on marijuana but also can make money by taxing the drug.

“We have spent billions of dollars investigating, prosecuting, incarcerating and monitoring millions of our fellow citizens who have hurt nobody, damaged no property, breached no peace. Their only ‘crime’ was smoking a plant which made them feel a bit giddy,” Leach said in a memorandum to all state senators.

He said Pennsylvania can legalize and regulate marijuana in the same manner as alcohol following Prohibition during the 1920s and the 1930s.

“We already have an infrastructure. We can plug marijuana into that system,” he said.

Leach believes legalizing marijuana will aid the safety of those who choose to use the drug.

“People that want marijuana are forced to purchase it from criminals out on the street, and it can be laced with dangerous chemicals,” he said.

Pane said he favors the Gov. Raymond Shafer Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act, which Leach introduced on April 25, 2001, and state Rep. Mark Cohen reintroduced on June 13, 2011. Under this bill, patients could legally use the drug with a doctor’s approval and after registering with Pennsylvania’s departments of State and Health.

Leach said he understands his legislation is a tough sell.

“The short term is a battle. Long term, it’s inevitable,” he said.

Sens. Jim Ferlo, D-Pittsburgh, and Lawrence Farnese, D-Philadelphia, will co-sponsor the legislation, Leach said.

Source: Citizens’ Voice, The (Wilkes-Barre, PA)
Author: Shawn Kellmer, Staff Writer
Published: February 11, 2013
Copyright: 2013 The Citizens’ Voice

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