Will Pennsylvania See Legal Marijuana in 2013?

When it comes to legal pot in the Keystone State, the problem isn't the dopers, it's the dopes in office.

Back in the ’70s, former Pennsylvania Governor Raymond Shafer’s national commission on marijuana ultimately recommended the decriminalization of pot with reams of scientific evidence. President Nixon ignored those findings, thereby throwing the U.S. into our decades-long War on Drugs.

But with huge victories for pot in 2012, the heady wave of legalization is beginning to crest, emboldening activists across the country—including those in Shafer’s old stomping grounds. And if we can educate our politicians a bit, the Keystone State might just get a little greener in 2013.

The chance this year, again, comes from Sen. Daylin Leach, who is resurrecting his failed medical marijuana bill from past legislative sessions to (hopefully) more support. But besides that bill, Leach says he will also introduce a marijuana decriminalization measure for the commission’s consideration. Unfortunately, Leach’s past pot efforts have invariably been met with little media recognition or lawmaker support. Lucky for Pennsylvania’s marijuana set, though, some guys just don’t know when to quit.

Admittedly, at first glance, any form of legal weed for Pennsylvanians seems a long way off. I mean, we can’t even buy beer and liquor—or even a six-pack and a case of brew—in the same place. Harry Anslinger, the guy who brought us Reefer Madness and the ridiculous gateway drug myth, is from Altoona. Roughly half (17,000 or so) of our yearly drug arrests are for marijuana possession. Even pundit god Terry Madonna doesn’t see a lot of hope for the cause in PA.

Yet, all is not lost. A 2010 poll conducted by Madonna himself found that 80 percent of Pennsylvanians support medical marijuana for the state, while another 33 percent are for outright legalization. Clearly, the people want their pot—it’s just a matter of telling (or maybe convincing) our politicians that this is what we really want. Because, honestly, there isn’t a whole lot of serious cannabis consideration going on with those guys.

Take, for example, our beloved governor, Tom Corbett. He’s vehemently against pot, saying recently that he’d veto any marijuana legalization legislation—medical or otherwise—that reaches his desk. And that’s on top of a spokesman saying that Corbett believes “smoking marijuana is a crime, should remain a crime and that marijuana is a gateway drug.” More than a little political posturing going on there, to be sure, but Corbett’s point is made: no weed, no how. How else are you going to keep those prisons full, right, Tom?

Not surprisingly, Corbett’s subordinates are towing the big guy’s line. Delco DA Jack Whelan recently said he believes marijuana is used only to get high, and that FDA-approved treatments for cancer, AIDS, etc. are better suited for their purpose. House Appropriations majority leader Bill Adolph says he hasn’t even heard about marijuana from his constituents. Northampton County’s DA, John Morganelli, doesn’t think we need “more dopers running around.” And on, and on, and on.

The problem’s not the dopers, though—it’s these dopes. Tom Corbett may be a governor, but he believes in a myth that got debunked 40 years ago. Jack Whelan, a lawyer from Delco and not a doctor, would rather have patients take addictive narcotics simply because they’re already legally available. John Morganelli apparently believes he’s actually in Reefer Madness (“dopers,” really?). They’re squandering potential tax dollars, missing a political opportunity for the Republican Party to own the weed issue, and keeping a whole lot of people sicker than they need to be. If this is who we’ve got controlling our pot laws, maybe we are in trouble. These men must know they sound ridiculous.

Terry Madonna told the Morning Call that Corbett’s hardline stance seems to be a tactic to scare minority leaders away from pressing the issue. Luckily, that doesn’t seem to have worked with Leach.

But even with 80 percent support for medical marijuana, it will still be a fight in 2013 to get our green. Our state’s most vocal marijuana proponents, the Philly and Pittsburgh chapters of NORML, are woefully underfunded if they’re expected to spread the message and alter policy. Donations, money, are the blood of any political cause, and legal pot is a political issue like anything else that runs on cash. Hey, somebody’s got to lobby.

After all, Daylin Leach can’t do it all by himself. But then, he’s got about 10 million Pennsylvanians behind him. We’ve just got to yell at Corbett and his ilk loud enough this year.