Can Marijuana Make John Hanger Governor?

Democrat says Pennsylvanians are so fed up with the war on drugs that they’ll join his campaign.


John Hanger might not be the first guy you’d think of to be the “pot candidate” in this year’s Pennsylvania gubernatorial campaign: He’s a Penn Law grad who has held several reasonably high-profile state posts during his career.

Still, it’s Hanger’s aggressive pro-legalization stance that has come to define his candidacy. He both embraces that distinction — believing it might get him the numbers to win the Democratic primary — and eschews it, saying that he’s got plans and proposals to address a host of issues afflicting the state.

Talk to him, and you might find yourself suspecting Hanger could benefit from a toke or two. He can be frenetic in conversation, packing thousands of words and many ideas into a compact space, as though he were racing to beat an invisible timer. And that’s when he’s focused on the conversation — he interrupted his phone call with Philly Mag last week to do campaign business, offering buttons and bumper stickers to supporters. “We’re going to knock those elites out of office,” he promised.

Your campaign put up billboards in a couple of Pennsylvania towns urging voters to legalize and tax marijuana now. Do you think marijuana legalization can be the cornerstone to winning a statewide campaign in Pennsylvania?

Absolutely — this issue involves the lives of two million Pennsylvanians. Some folks say, “Marijuana is not a voting issue, it’s not important.” Tell that to the 500,000 Pennsylvanians who have conditions that are treated with cannabis in 20 states. Tell that to the moms I was with this morning, who have children who are suffering from Dravet Syndrome, whose lives are hanging in the balance. They want marijuana for their children and for them it is the only issue.

This is also a very important issue for all taxpayers. We are spending $300 million, approximately, chasing down and arresting people who are possessing small amounts of marijuana. If we get it out of the underground economy and start taxing it, instead of spending that $300 million we will raise $200 million dollars of new revenue. That’s a big deal for taxpayers.

And then there is the whole issue of racial justice. Marijuana arrests are half of all drug arrests, not a small part of the war on drugs, it’s half of all drug arrests. In Pennsylvania, African Americans are being arrested at five times the rate of whites, even though usage is the same.

Three hundred thousand votes will win the primary; this issue will get me at least 200,000 of them.

There have been movements at the local level, certainly here in Philadelphia, to maybe decriminalize small amounts of marijuana. The DA isn’t prosecuting small amounts, there has been some movement at City Council to further accelerate that process. Is that not enough to maybe curb the worst excesses of the war on drugs?

I have proposed a three-step reform plan. First step was medical marijuana, that should have been done years ago. Second step was decriminalization, that should be done immediately. I am glad to see any community move towards decriminalization. Decriminalization is a real misnomer, the purchase and use of marijuana would still remain a crime, but the penalties would be lowered. The third step is legalization and taxation.

The waste of money on criminalization doesn’t end with “Decriminalization,” that’s why it’s a misnomer. It’s reduced, but you are still having arrests, you are still having processing of summons and tickets, and all of the various processes associated with arresting and finding people. And of course, you still keep marijuana in the underground economy, and you don’t legalize and you don’t tax.

Keystone Politics is a liberal blog you maybe aware of. It has criticized your campaign’s emphasis on legalization for a couple of reasons. First, it suggests based on its reading of the poll numbers, that outright legalization seems unlikely at this stage, maybe only about a third of Pennsylvania supports it. Second, the blog suggests there are so many more important things to worry about right now, job growth and education cuts and abortion rights and marriage equally among them. So what’s your response to all that?

First, my number one issue is education. And I have a whole education plan at My number two issue is jobs, I am the only candidate with a real jobs plan that will create 382,000 jobs and that is on But I also want to win this race, so that I can save Pennsylvania schools and then create those 382,000 jobs.

I will tell you I’ve got more experience running state agencies than anybody else in this race — I go back to the Casey administration. I ran two state agencies. I am a national energy expert. And I’ve got unique energy expertise at a time when Pennsylvania needs energy expertise in the governor’s chair. I know how to regulate, tax and zone gas drilling and keep it out of sensitive places where it doesn’t belong. I know how to have an energy boom that improves wind, solar and energy efficiency, and I’ve done those things in my career. I am not a one-issue candidate, but I am glad that people want to talk to me because of my position on legalization and taxation.

Let’s take marijuana off the table for just a second. Outside of that, what would be the top priority your first day in office and how would you attack it?

My number one issue is education and setting up public schools. There are a number of ways I differ from my Democratic opponents. First, I proposed a college affordability plan that would allow all Pennsylvanians to go to two years of community college or one year of state public universities without writing a tuition check up front. They would sign a contract to repay their tuition from their earnings, they would pay 1 to 2 percent of their earnings over a 15-year period. I have a fund that will capitalize over $1.5 billion dollar bonds that would pay the tuition to the community college.

We have to get serious about income inequality, and one way to get serious about it is to provide education and training opportunities that improve the skills and therefore the value of people who received that education.

Last question: Given the emphasis of your campaign, you have a pretty establishmentarian background: You went to Duke University and Penn Law. You have service in the State’s Department of Environmental Protection and Public Utility Committee. How does somebody go from that straight-laced background to putting up pro-pot billboards in an area in Scranton?

It’s a question of what’s right and wrong. Look, I came out of University of Pennsylvania Law School and got my dream job as a legal service attorney. I worked with families who couldn’t pay their utility bills and were shut off and in the cold on a day like you have now. I’ve run an organization dedicated to improving Pennsylvania’s environment and economy in the non-profit sector. I have a mix of experiences in my life, including coming to America as a 12-year-old-boy from Ireland. I am an immigrant to this country.

I certainly have held important offices, I’ve managed to have major accomplishments that nobody else in this race could even begin to talk about. For example, when I was a Public Utilities Commissioner with Governor Casey, Philadelphia’s electric rates were among the 10 highest in this country. I corrected the problem by the time I left, with a 14-year rate cap on electric rates. And I’ve saved everybody in the Philadelphia region who pays electric bills thousands of dollars. For big consumers of energy, millions of dollars on their electric bill. So I am an unusual candidate and further, I am not asking any voter to vote for me without detailed proposals. I have detailed proposals on my website from beginning to end and I will continue to push issues with a mix of facts and morality.

Follow @JoelMMathis on Twitter.

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  • Brian Kelly B Bizzle

    The “War on Marijuana” has been a complete and utter failure. It is the largest component of the broader yet equally unsuccessful “War on Drugs” that has cost our country over a trillion dollars.

    Instead of The United States wasting Billions upon Billions more of our tax dollars fighting a never ending “War on Marijuana”, lets generate Billions of dollars, and improve the deficit instead. It’s a no brainer.

    The Prohibition of Marijuana has also ruined the lives of many of our loved ones. In numbers greater than any other nation, our loved ones are being sent to jail and are being given permanent criminal records which ruin their chances of employment for the rest of their lives, and for what reason?

    Marijuana is much safer, and healthier to consume than alcohol. Yet do we lock people up for choosing to drink?

    Let’s end this hypocrisy now!

    The government should never attempt to legislate morality by creating victim-less “crimes” because it simply does not work and costs the taxpayers a fortune.

    Marijuana Legalization Nationwide is an inevitable reality that’s approaching much sooner than prohibitionists think and there is nothing they can do to stop it!

    Legalize Nationwide! Support Each and Every Marijuana Legalization Initiative!

  • pissed off

    North Carolina is a dictator state. I cant even vote for a specific issue. I cant believe I was force to salute the flag k-8 grade. I don’t respect anyone that puts on a police uniform and enforces marijuana prohibition.
    And the stereotypical thing people say about ME are absolutely false. Im a great person.
    prohibitionist would have a terrible time applying stereotypes to me if we were face to face.

    • Richard Colton

      I hear you brother. Maine gets a bad rap everywhere.

    • Immortal Illumined

      i agree with everything but the salute the flag part…without this nation there may be no freedom anywhere

      i spent the first 20 something years pondering how to break cali away from the UNITED STATES, i’ll spend the rest of my life holding it together forever

      • robertderego

        Freedom for who? The business people who started the nation at the expense of africans and the native americans. The pledge is an old flag sales pitch from a flag factory that refused to include equality in it. The flag is a piece of propaganda raised to rally people behind wars and nothing more. Our nation fights wars for corporations, ever since the trans continental railroad and the Spanish American war, nothing but Imperialism, now we will tell you there is a mad man we have to kill to save the innocent, but it always comes down to an oil field or pipeline. Our nation will be freer, stronger and more “humane” when we learn to question our loyalties once in a while. The flag has been tarnished into a bar code and our money has old slave owners on it, lets make some progress here. Our flag is just too often false. Just because someone died with it strapped to them, does not make their death, life, or the war they fought in honorable but wave flag and who would know the difference? This flag thing will get us into a third world war. And oh yeh, cannabis is benign unless it is saving a cancer patients life.

        • Immortal Illumined

          i live in california, where freedom tends to start…

        • Immortal Illumined

          cannabis has 1000s of remedies and uses

  • Richard Colton

    Great story. This guy could get hundreds of votes.

    • John

      Um…more like millions. Its the Pennsylvania gubernatorial election; not running for class president at the local high school.

      • Richard Colton

        where to start? millions in a PA primary? tell me one time in history that’s happened. This guy’s a one issue candidate. Nobody knows him. Nobody will endorse him. He’s got no Philly/phillyburbs exposure.

        • Henry Israeli

          He is not a one issue candidate. Look him up. He has more to say about nearly issue than any of the candidates by far. He is the only candidate with a substantial plan to address the education crisis and the energy situation in Pennsylvania.

          • Richard Colton

            He has no chance. It’s cute though. Bet his signs will be awesome.

          • MikeParent

            neither did Obama in 08.

          • Richard Colton

            You’re kidding. You mean Obama in ’04?

          • Henry Israeli

            Neither did DiBlasio in ’13.

        • CaptQT


  • Immortal Illumined

    the greatest plant in the universe is almost free, LET FREEDOM RING!!!13

    from 0 states to half the country, from low 20% approval to almost 70%, cali runs this planet by 2 decades, time to tie marijuana to the 2014, and 2016 elections

    20 years behind us southern states and PENN, sad and scary….nobody denies freedoms like the south, nobody…even if marijuana reforms did pass the republiCANTS in charge would deny you all your freedoms, centuries of practice…no matter though, we never planned on getting your backwards brethren from day one, half the country already but not one southern state, lol…

    love and freedom forever


  • MikeParent

    “John Hanger might not be the first guy you’d think
    of to be the “pot candidate” in this year’s Pennsylvania gubernatorial
    campaign: He’s a Penn Law grad who has held several reasonably
    high-profile state posts during his career.”

    Why imply that being well educated means one is expected to favor prohibition? Science is clear, marijuana is safer than what the Gvt allows.

    Does anyone honestly believe that wasting $20 Billion and arresting 3/4 Million Americans annually for choosing a substance, Scientifically proven to be safer than what the govt allows, is a sound policy?

    • Mike, I was wondering the same thing!

  • AntiIgnorant

    How has prohibition worked?

    I cannot answer that question but I can list plenty of failure points:

    Failure (1) – Prohibition has NOT removed supply from the reach of children. Go visit a high school and ask which is easier to obtain alcohol or pot. The answer is pot due to non-regulation.

    Failure (2) – Prohibition has NOT made the general public safer. Quite the contrary. Demand increases every year due to the amount of people who prefer cannabis to pharmaceutical drugs and alcohol. Who is meeting this demand? The black market. Thus, increasing crime every year.

    Failure (3) – Prohibition has spent billions and billions of taxpayer dollars to arrest and lock up citizens for simple possession. Citizens that are guilty of nothing more than preferring cannabis to alcohol and pharmaceutical drugs. Many of these citizens now have criminal records preventing them from obtaining gainful employment.

    Failure (4) – Prohibition has suppressed and delayed medical research of cannabis. This plant has been shown to have a myriad of medical benefits which include treatments for cancer, PTSD, seizures, HIV, depression and many others.


    The majority of the country has been shown in multiple polls to support cannabis legalization for both medical and recreational use. Prohibitionists arguments have not evolved with the times. They are the same as they were decades ago and have never been based on sound science. Now is the time to stop living the lies of our fathers and right this wrong.

  • polisimo

    Just saw an online poll asking “which candidate has the best looks” or something to that effect. First reaction was are you freakin kidding me?

    Popularity in powerful circles and big money influence are the biggest reasons why politics is failing us. The top candidates can sit back on their piles of cash and expect easy victories yet not have to come up with uh, ya know, actual solutions to our problems? Corbett is a shining example of this and look where we are.

    Meanwhile guys like Hanger, who are fighting in the trenches for votes that are outspoken about their desire to fight for the average joe, are downplayed or even laughed out of the room. This culture has to change, and is why Hanger has my early vote in this primary.

    Lets send the message that we don’t care about your money… put in the effort for the office and fight for us or we won’t elect you.

  • Matthew Cunningham

    In Florida medical marijuana could not even get a hearing from so called elected officials and a state like Florida with the highest and most in need of MMJ what did our politicians do but ban bongs and if you sell two its a felony and you lose your right to vote we had to get 680,000 signatures to get it on the ballot for november.

    • Immortal Illumined

      amazing really, here here….go florida

  • alanmonrovia

    “ many more important things…”
    The prohibition of marijuana is a grave affront to our basic rights as Americans.

    “The makers of our Constitution…..conferred, as against the Government, the right to be let alone—-the most comprehensive of rights and the right most valued by
    civilized men.” ( US Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis, 1928)

    This trampling of our rights has permitted the government to force its way into our homes, destroy people’s lives, inflate it’s own power. It interferes with our ability to access medicine, to work, to walk the street in peace, to live a life as we see fit. Prohibition costs us billions of dollars each year. I’d say this is a pretty important issue.

  • Youssef Ismail

    I’d vote for him and I’m as conservative as they get.

  • med man

    they need to stop the bull shit and just set up a poll and let the people vote

  • Tara

    He’s got my vote!

  • fdgdgg

    Honestly if you legalize mj you’ll be increasing job growth by a lot all those dispensaries and stuff will add up also you’d be gaining more money i predict pa would have at least a million in sales like colorado on the first day !!

    • whoisjohngalt58

      it will be a mixed bag, many in state government will face reductions if legalization occurs. (or that is the concern, by Law and Corrections).

      The line item of each state budget the largest item next to Human Services and Schools is Law enforcement and Corrections. of that Law, HHS, AND Corrections a very large amount (probably 30%) of those budgets is related to drug offenses, treatment or incarceration.. The prison industry like compliance, and non-violent drug offenders do not make waves.

  • fdgdgg

    People need to wake up more and realize MJ will only benefit everyone in the long run job growth with all the stuff you can do with hemp thats jobs right their medicine thats a job right there fuel another job ECT ECT ECT WAKE UP PEOPLE!!!

  • fdgdgg


  • I will also be voting for John Hanger for Governor.

  • Kevweb

    I normally vote GOP for tax reasons but looks like I will be voting for a democrat for governor!

    • whoisjohngalt58

      while I agree in theory the fact sadly is a democrat is like a kid with a fist full of cash in a candy store.
      I too have been a lifelong republican, I am a pragmatic libertarian, the libertarians are too much like kids with ADD/ADHD, not paying attention to the realities of governing a civil society.
      In my state we have an LP governatorial candidate whose sole issues is weed.
      I questioned him on his stance on other issues and he told me in no uncertain terms he didn’t care about “other” issues.
      This is wrong.
      Serious candidates need to be prepared. the number one issue for cannabis legalization BEFORE personal liberty is “State Budget”

  • Ben_in_da_burgh

    I am a voter in Pennsylvania. I am voting for John Hanger in the upcoming Democratic Primary SOLELY because of his stance on marijuana. Frankly I do not care what his stance on any other issues are. This issue is treated like a joke by every news organization in the entire country. It is not a joke. I have taken a good look at all the other candidates, and they all have pretty much identical platforms and agendas regarding economic and environmental policy, but he is the only one willing to stick his neck out for those of us who are forced to resort to dealing with criminals just to get the medicine we should be able to get at any pharmacy.

  • whoisjohngalt58

    here is the issues to run on if they intend to look at cannabis as one of those issues.

    the big one is cost to states for “incarceration, interdiction ” of nonviolent offenders.

    I know full well many state budgets one of the largest line item costs is drug enforcement, next to human services.

    Take marijuana out of the picture, and prisons are no longer over populated, budgets are reduced, because the necessary staff isn’t need.
    The biggest road blog to this whole thing are correctional and law enforcement unions.