Pennsylvania Lawmaker Wants to Use Cannabis to Cure Student Debt

Pennsylvania State Representative Jake Wheatley (D), along with 25 cosponsors, introduced a bill on Monday that would bring legal cannabis to the Keystone state.

Lawmakers in Pennsylvania are continuing to push cannabis legalization with the filing of House Bill 50. If passed, the bill would allow adults 21 or older to possess, consume, grow and purchase cannabis through a state-regulated market. The bill also contains some very strong social justice initiatives. HB50 would see past cannabis-related convictions expunged from criminal records and would have people currently incarcerated for cannabis offenses released from prison.

"There's a social justice component because we want to make sure people understand this is not just about cannabis," Wheatley said during a press conference yesterday. "It's about making sure that we are righting some of the wrongs of the failed war on drugs."

Wheatley estimates that a regulated cannabis market could generate $580 million dollars in taxes for Pennsylvania annually. His bill proposes to use half of that money to reduce student loan debt, another 40 percent on funding affordable housing while investing the rest in after-school care programs.

And while the likelihood that Pennsylvania will join the ranks of legal states pretty soon seems to be rising, it is not yet clear whether or not Wheatley's bill will even make its way to the Republican-controlled House or Senate for a vote. A similar bill filed by Wheatley last year was unsuccessful.

However, this time around Wheatley has the support of Governor Tom Wolf (D), who wants to legalize recreational cannabis in Pennsylvania.

And even if this bill fails, Wheatley is confident that it won't be long before recreational cannabis comes to Pennsylvania.

"If we were betting, there's a good 50/50 chance that at some point—maybe it won't be this year, maybe it's next year—at some point, this conversation around legalizing cannabis is going to be very real," he said. "I would rather do it sooner than later."

In the past year Pennsylvania has made a number of steps towards progressive cannabis reform. In May they became only the second state to implement a program to help opioid patients transition to medical marijuana, and also significantly reduced barriers that previously prevented colleges from conducing cannabis-related research. So legalizing recreational use seems like a natural progression for marijuana reform in the Keystone State.

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Rep. Tim Ryan (D-OH) isn't the most vocal cannabis advocate on the 2020 presidential campaign trail, but you shouldn't take that as a lack of support for marijuana legalization. Unlike many of the top contenders for the upcoming Democratic primaries, Ryan hasn't filed any of his own cannabis legalization bills.

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