Soapbox

A Response to Governor Wolf’s Call for the Legalization of Recreational Cannabis

By Chris Visco
4 Comments

In this op-ed, Visco calls on the Pennsylvania Governor to create sensible reform, with social equity and bipartisanship in mind.

As a medical cannabis professional, I, like most industry leaders, have been left out of the conversation around the Governor’s call to legalize recreational cannabis. Much like flying a plane without the advice of the pilot, those of us who are rooted in this space should be given a seat in the cockpit if we’re headed in this direction.

While Governor Wolf has called for legalization, which is absolutely necessary, those who understand where legislation has gone wrong and what works well – including business owners and most importantly, patients – have been largely left out of the conversation.

I meet regularly with legislators and unlike many, I speak and listen to both sides. I applaud the call for legalization by Governor Wolf, however, I question his true intentions. Is this political posturing to make Republicans look out of touch? Any political strategist would say that if you actually want something done, you must work with the opposition. Like many issues today, change can only be created once we come together. This is no different.

Few people understand that cannabis was used as medicine for thousands of years and legal in the U.S. until 1969. In 1971, Nixon told us that cannabis was “bad” and drug abuse was public enemy number one, so Americans listened. Nixon then goes on to break American law, be impeached, resigns, and yet, Americans continue to follow his lead, vilifying cannabis users, 46 years later. As a society, we are taught to conform to what we are told by elected officials and community leaders as truth.

PA Governor Tom Wolf
Image: Flickr

Act 16 legalized cannabis – a term illegal to use by someone like me, who has been mandated by The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, to use ONLY the racist term “marijuana” – but in a way that shames users. The system fails our patients at every turn leaving business owners hostage to an unmanageable “seed to sale” platform, leaving many patients without access to their medicine. Low income patients have been left out of our program by high prices and have not received any of the subsidies they were promised, even though the program has produced hundreds of millions of dollars.

Pennsylvania law strictly prohibits anyone charged with the use of cannabis to work in the industry. You cannot own a cannabis business or work for a cannabis company if you have been arrested for possessing a $10 joint. Yet, my customers skip to their cars with hundreds of dollars of weed in their bags and go about their day. Meanwhile, a 19-year-old black kid’s life just ended after he was pulled over, driving while black and the officer finds a joint. He can never receive financial aid for college or get a job because he has “a record.” The reality is, the black teen’s life will most definitely come to an end because of a joint while others can smoke walking down Broad Street and no one blinks.

Pennsylvanians want legal cannabis. It has a consistent history of reducing opioid deaths, state by state, by 25%. How many lives would be saved if we allowed those who cannot afford legal cannabis but fear prosecution for illegal use, to grow their own?

I have no judgement against those who have been conditioned to believe cannabis is an “illicit drug” because this is how we’ve been programmed. Cannabis has healed but has killed no one. We must educate our legislators before we vilify them. There are more Republicans quietly for legalization than against, but they need information, not shaming.

Legalization of cannabis is necessary to preserve our health and welfare, because we’ve become a society addicted to chemically derived pharmaceutical drugs designed to cause dependence. Cannabis is not physically addicting. It can prevent and eliminate seizures, shrink and even kill cancer tumors, settle the nervous system from diseases like Parkinson’s and MS and help those with anxiety, depression and PTSD. Legalize cannabis and clean up our homelessness, allow people of color to profit from an industry which has capitalized on them, allow low income people and all people to grow their own medicine, and reduce the violence in our streets caused by prohibition.

Pennsylvania needs a legalization law that includes real, hard-working Americans. I am one of the few, born and bred small business cannabis owners in Pennsylvania and I want opportunity for my neighbors and fellow Pennsylvanians in this space. We need legalization to save our communities, but we need two separate application processes – one that is directed toward those disproportionately impacted by the war on drugs which should be crafted to protect applicants who cannot afford thousands of dollars of application fees and the uncertainty of losing hundreds of thousands of dollars via legislative delays. The system is broken. There must be two points of entry.

Pennsylvania Republicans will legalize cannabis. Pennsylvania Democrats will not. Democrats hold no power or authority in our Republican controlled state, and they have shown no attempt to educate. Cannabis legalization is necessary to save the state, but money should not be the reason. Pennsylvanians deserve the education to understand what they do not understand.

Instead, lets legalize and allow 50% of the licenses to be awarded to social equity applicants (those disproportionately affected by the war on drugs) with a bill that is written in the best interest of the social equity applicant and the consumer. The other 50% of the applications should be open to current license holders (who should be grandfathered in with a high price license acceptance fee) and small business owners from Pennsylvania. (It is federally illegal to require residency requirements).

We must not eliminate the Multi State Operators (MSOs) because a free market depends on expertise and stability – and whether anyone wants to hear it or not, being disadvantaged is not enough to be a successful businessperson. We need a balance, but more importantly, as with our nation in crisis, we need to come together.

We CAN 

  • Provide affordable, non-addictive medicine to patients.
  • Allow people to grow their own cannabis.
  • Create BILLIONS in tax revenue nationally by taxing adult use cannabis.
  • Demand social equity reform where anyone can profit from the plant.
  • Free Americans from prisons and parole and expunge records.

All of this is a cry for peace. As a wise person once said, “Drunk men in a bar start a fight, high men start a band.”  Spread peace not hate. Thousands die from excessive alcohol consumption every year, but legalization of cannabis does not increase usage. No one has ever died from cannabis. Tell me again why we shouldn’t legalize? Those who believe we should not might as well push for alcohol prohibition again – it has no medicinal properties and kills.

Hopes and dreams will not help our humanitarian crisis – but action and education just might…

About The Author

Comments

  1. Brian Kelly

    Marijuana consumers deserve and demand equal rights and protections under our laws that are currently afforded to the drinkers of far more dangerous and deadly, yet perfectly legal, widely accepted, endlessly advertised and even glorified as an All-American pastime, alcohol.

    Plain and simple!

    Legalize Nationwide!

    It’s time for us, the majority of The People to take back control of our national marijuana policy. By voting OUT of office any and all politicians who very publicly and vocally admit to having an anti-marijuana, prohibitionist agenda! Time to vote’em all OUT of office. Period. Plain and simple.

    Politicians who continue to demonize Marijuana, Corrupt Law Enforcement Officials who prefer to ruin peoples lives over Marijuana possession rather than solve real crimes who fund their departments toys and salaries with monies acquired through Marijuana home raids, seizures and forfeitures, and so-called “Addiction Specialists” who make their income off of the judicial misfortunes of our citizens who choose marijuana, – Your actions go against The Will of The People and Your Days In Office Are Numbered! Find new careers before you don’t have one.

    The People have spoken! Get on-board with Marijuana Legalization Nationwide, or be left behind and find new careers. Your choice.

  2. Skip Shuda

    Thank you, Chris, for pointing out the need for a healing industry for this healing plant. I like most of your recommendations and agree that a bi-partisan approach is needed to bring healthy cannabis legalization to PA. The Governor’s proposal of running legalization through the PA state stores is a non-starter and misses the boat for creating a small, business-friendly industry with restorative justice at its heart.

    Through my non-profit, Soulful Cannabis (est. 2018 in PA), I offer the following checklist of principles to consider for any legalization effort in that spirit. These high level principles can be addressed through numerous legislative paths and language. I also have met with Republican legislators to discuss this – and believe that a thoughtful and educational approach to legalization is possible.

    1. Affordable and Accessible Permits. The number of permits for cultivation, manufacturing and retail sales should be large or unlimited. The permit fee should be low enough that permits are available to any entrepreneur in the state.
    2. Home Grow. Residents should be able to grow their own. This is the only way to truly have a program that is intended to benefit the residents of the state first.
    3. Clear and Helpful Taxing. Taxes should be easy to understand. Tax revenue should be shared with local municipalities and earmarked for the common good of the state.
    4. Social Equity Support. Include programs that will support disadvantaged communities with access to ownership in the program including business service support, education and discounted fees. Ensure equitable geographic distribution of the businesses.
    5. Expungement and Prisoner Release. Cannabis-related arrests and convictions should be expunged from the record. People imprisoned for cannabis-related offenses should be freed.
    6. Safe product requirements. Products need to be safely manufactured through known best practices to eliminate harmful pesticides, solvents and additives. Thorough product testing must be required for all commercial products. Child-proof packaging and marketing practices should be in place.
    7. Corporate Social Responsibility. Participants in this industry should adhere to transparency in reporting, accountability for customer service, and participation in community support activities. Workers should be paid a living wage with full benefits. The industry should adhere to principles of environmental sustainability.
    8. Clear Enforcement Protocols. Resources must be in place to ensure compliance with the new laws and regulations.
    9. Clear Law Enforcement Guidelines. Law enforcement should be given clear guidelines regarding impaired driving and possession violations.
    10. Public-centered Review and Improvement. Public panels should be empowered to provide periodic feedback on safety, efficacy and program effectiveness. State revenue numbers, disciplinary actions and other program-related data should be published at least annually and readily available to the public.

  3. Thomas Hackman

    Well where do I start? I have been suffering from a work related injury since 1997, have been through 3 back surgeries and 1 neck surgery. I have been treating through numerous avenues which consisted of physical therapy, external stimulation, acupuncture, surgeries, testing for a internal stimulator ( which failed) and opioids of all types. I have ran the race and have not won yet. The next step is a pain pump which I just cannot see happening. The possible side effects are just unthinkable. One alternative is MMJ which my pain specialist and I hsvrvdpoke about in-depth. I was recommended to see a MMJ doctor and seek out his opinion. After visiting with the MMJ doctor, several times, he said it would be another choice for treatment. He told me he saw great success with treatment of MMJ for my injury. Now comes my concern and reality, will WC pay for my treatment? One important piece of information to this treatment plan is back on 2002 I had a settlement hearing with WC and the conclusion was I did not sign off on my medical. They agreed to pay any and all treatments considered ” medically necessary”. I contacted my lawyer and we discussed my treatment plan and what to do as far as WC paying for my treatment. I had to have a Utilization report done and presented to a judge. This was a 2 year process so far. We won the judge deemed it medically necessary. Well according to my previous court order WC should have to pay for my treatment of MMJ. Here I am thinking I won and this is s big step forward for me and my fellow sufferers. I called WC and they received the court order stating the judge deemed it medically necessary do I asked how we will go about getting my medicine. They just said something at that time short and sweet, ” we are not paying” I asked why and the response was” the big companies don’t so we aren’t either” They also said there is no laws that require them to have to pay. I said, ” what about the previous court order saying you must pay for treatment deemed medically necessary?” I was told their lawyer was going to file an appeal. They had 20 days and I never heard back. These are the hurdles we are having to climb under since we cannot jump them anymore. Road block one after another. We need to have everyone to stop worrying about recreational use and concentrate on its true purpose, Medicine!! I heard you say about being the pilot but the pilot cannot fly without the observation tower and that tower is us the patient, the patient will know how to guide you and give you the bottom line information you will need to land this MMJ plane. To all out government officials please contact us the patient, to all MMJ dispensary owners please contact us the patients we are your observation tower we can and will help guide you. One other thing I was surprised about the use of race in your op ed it’s not just the ” black teens” it’s all people, race is not the determining factor. Thank you

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