A ballot measure calling on state leaders to decriminalize marijuana in Pennsylvania enjoyed strong support from Philadelphia’s voters on Tuesday, receiving more than 72 percent of ballots cast in a citywide election.
Philadelphia’s Question 1 amends the Philadelphia Home Charter to call on the governor and the Pennsylvania General Assembly “to pass legislation that would decriminalize, regulate and tax the use and sale to adults aged 21 years or older, of cannabis for non-medical purposes.” The measure does not by itself change state law or substantially impact the residents of Philadelphia, which effectively decriminalized possession of small amounts of cannabis seven years ago.
A ‘Loud Message’ for State Lawmakers
As of early Wednesday afternoon local time, Question 1 had received more than 129,000 votes, or 72.73 percent of ballots cast, with more than 96 percent of precincts reporting results.
Pennsylvania Democratic Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman, who is currently running for U.S. Senate, and has been an outspoken proponent of cannabis policy reform, visited all of the state’s 67 counties in 2019 to hold town hall meetings exploring issues surrounding the legalization of adult-use cannabis. He believes that it is time for state lawmakers to heed the continuing calls for marijuana legalization, including those expressed by Philadelphia’s voters in this week’s election.
“Philly sent a loud and clear message for legal weed, and so has Pennsylvania,” Fetterman wrote in a text message. “It dovetails perfectly with the first Republican sponsored bill to legalize weed in PA history,” referring to a bipartisan proposal from Democratic Senator Sharif Street of Philadelphia and Republican Senator Dan Laughlin of Erie.
“To borrow their phrase, ‘it’s inevitable,’” Fetterman added.
Possession Decriminalized in Philly in 2014
Pennsylvania lawmakers legalized the use and sale of medical marijuana in 2016, but recreational cannabis remains illegal in the state. Under a pot decriminalization measure passed in Philadelphia in 2014, those possessing less than 30 grams of cannabis are subject only to fines rather than facing criminal charges.
Philadelphia resident Damian Jorden, the CEO of Phynally, a national employment search engine that features jobs that do not require drug tests for marijuana, says that it is great to see his native city taking steps to decriminalize cannabis.
“Marijuana criminalization and the stigmas behind it have marginalized so many people for such a long time,” Jordan wrote in an email. “It’s clear Philly and its leaders want change and I believe the people do too. Cannabis is the future and with the passing of time, I believe history will reflect that we are headed in the right direction.”
Two Adult-Use Bills Pending
In addition to the adult-use cannabis bill cosponsored by Street and Laughlin, another measure from Democratic state Representatives Jake Wheatley and Dan Frankel, House Bill 2050, would also remove the prohibitions on recreational marijuana in Pennsylvania. Both proposals, however, have so far failed to advance in the state legislature. Brian Vicente, founding partner of national cannabis law firm Vicente Sederberg LLP, believes that the approval of Question 1 puts additional pressure on state lawmakers to make progress on marijuana policy reform.
“The vote in Philadelphia reflects the growing sentiment across Pennsylvania and around the nation that it is time to end the failed policy of cannabis prohibition and establish a regulated market for adult consumers,” Vicente said. “It should lend to the momentum that has been building in the Legislature, where support is growing among Republicans as well as Democrats.”
The approval of Question 1, while overwhelming, came on light voter turnout in this week’s off-year election. Patrick Christmas, policy director for the nonprofit city government watchdog group Committee of Seventy, told Axios Philadelphia that Tuesday was “one of the most quiet elections we’ve had in a long time.”
“The main driver of turnout anywhere is going to be a competitive election,” Christmas added, “and we did not have that in the city of Philadelphia today.”