Exploring the Potential Benefits of Adult-Use Cannabis Legalization in Pennsylvania

Diana Polson |

The legalization of the adult use of cannabis in Pennsylvania has been debated vigorously over
the past year, during and following the lieutenant governor’s listening tour. And over the last
few weeks, Governor Wolf and Attorney General Shapiro announced support of it.

This brief is meant to generate further discussion by sharing information, research, and
experiences from other states about the legalization of marijuana and the potential benefits
and possible costs to Pennsylvania.

Legalizing adult-use cannabis would bring with it several economic benefits. Adult-use
legalization would:

  • create jobs;
  • reduce the number of individuals, disproportionately African American, arrested for
    marijuana offenses;
  • save on criminal justice costs and related social costs of criminalization;
  • raise substantial revenue—an estimated $581 million/year; and
  • result in increased tourism and other economic benefits.

This brief also explores some common concerns raised at the prospect of legalization. Evidence
from other states:

  • finds that marijuana legalization has not resulted in increased usage by youth;
  • does not find that marijuana legalization has made the roads less safe; and
  • finds that marijuana is not a gateway drug, and it can actually be used as an exit drug
    from alcohol/nicotine addiction as well as opioid addiction.

Questions remain about how to structure the legalization of adult use in Pennsylvania.
We make suggestions that include using existing state infrastructure for distribution and
encouraging small business development. Pennsylvania is unique in that it already has existing
state-owned entities—the wine and spirit stores—that are already in the business of regulating
and selling controlled substances, ensuring youth do not have access and promoting the
responsible use of alcohol. Using this existing state infrastructure could ensure a smooth rollout
without the risks that accompany legalization through the private sector.

One lesson from other states that have legalized adult use is that the transition from an illegal
to a legal market often comes with the danger that the legal cannabis industry will be taken
over by big business. There are steps Pennsylvania can and should take to encourage the growth
of small businesses in the cannabis industry, including workforce training efforts aimed at
giving individuals harmed by the drug war priority for (now) legal and good paying jobs in the
marijuana industry and supporting the growth of small, minority-owned businesses.

Public support for the legalization of adult-use cannabis has been growing in Pennsylvania.
The latest poll shows that 59% of Pennsylvanians support it.

We explore these issues in more depth in the brief (Download the PDF here):