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Weighing Weed: House Health Committee, Rapp, continue hearings on adult use cannabis possibilities

Photo from a livestream of a House committee hearing Rep. Kathy Rapp speaks during a subcommittee hearing this week on marijuana legalization.

A series of committee meetings continue under the auspices of the state House Health Committee to consider the possibility of legislation of adult use – or recreational – marijuana.

That brings Rep. Kathy Rapp – minority chair of the Health Committee – into the center of that years-long debate.

The third hearing held by a Health Committee subcommittee was held this week and specifically heard testimony from the industry side of the cannabis space. It ran for more than four hours.

Rapp said early in the session that she is “very concerned about the health and safety of the people of Pennsylvania, especially our children.

“I am very concerned about what direction we are going, especially with THC levels,” she added. “I heard the chairman and governor very clearly (that they are) pushing for legalization. From what I am seeing across the nation, (I’m) not one at this time to jump on the bandwagon. I have a lot of concerns.”

A proposed bill has yet to be introduced.

Health Committee chair Rep. Dan Frankel called these hearings part of a “thoughtful, deliberative process.”

Frankel argued that there are three cannabis markets in Pennsylvania currently – medical marijuana, the illicit market and an unregulated marketplace for products that can be secured at convenience stores.

“I think we have a good deal of information here to look at,” he said, acknowledging the “hesitancy” of the opposition.

“We have a cannabis marketplace,” he stressed, that is “not going anywhere. It’s really inevitable in my view. The only responsible path forward is to create a safe and legal adult-use marketplace. We have the opportunity to do this in a safe way.”

Rapp said she is one “who is opposed to legalization of marijuana.”

“It behooves us to start looking at other states that are legalizing and seeing what is now possibly trending” across the country, specifically citing regulations in Oregon that have decriminalized the possession of small amounts of all illegal drugs.

She also spoke about the importance of consistent lab testing to mitigate “real health risks.”

“Where I live, I border New York state,” she said later in the hearing. “We have the Seneca Nation… right across the border…. I know I have constituents that go to the nation” to acquire marijuana.

As this process continues, Rapp outlined that she wants to hear from the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board about dispensing cannabis in state stores as well wanting to hear testimony from law enforcement and court officials.

“I think there’s a lot of issues that when a bill is drafted we definitely need to take a look at,” she added, to ensure any bill is “drafted in the best interest of Pennsylvanians, especially our young people in this state.”

The cannabis issue took center state at the state Capitol on Tuesday when Gov. Josh Shapiro presented his 2024-2025 budget address.

“Well, last year, 57 percent of voters in Ohio supported an initiative to legalize recreational marijuana,” he said. “And now, Ohio, New York, New Jersey, Delaware, and Maryland – practically all of our neighbors – have legalized marijuana.”

Shapiro said that results in a negative economic harm to Pennsylvania.

“We’re losing out on an industry that, once fully implemented, would bring in more than 250 million dollars in annual revenue,” he said. “And our failure to legalize and regulate this only fuels the black market and drains much needed resources for law enforcement.

“It’s time to catch up.”

He called on the General Assembly to approve a bill that legalizes marijuana and that ensures “the industry is regulated and taxes responsibly.”

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