Pennsylvania Auditor General Eugene DePasquale stopped in State College on Thursday to talk about marijuana.
DePasquale has in the past praised legislative efforts to enable regulated medical use of cannabis in Pennsylvania. Last month, he began making his case for the regulation and taxation of the drug.
“I think it’s pretty clear if you look at the most failed war in the history of the U.S., it’s the war on drugs,” he said Thursday in a news conference with State College Mayor Elizabeth Goreham. “So, regardless if you support my stance on regulating and taxing this, we have to think about this issue differently.”
DePasquale said that prior to the news conference, he had met with Goreham, borough police officers and borough staff to discuss the outcome of the borough’s attempt to decriminalize marijuana. He commended the mayor and police for their input on the issue.
The current state budget faces a $3 billion deficit right now, he said, while the state continues to spend money to lock up individuals for possession of a small amount. Instead of spending this money, he said, the state could be generating tax revenue and enacting a more “sane policy.”
Pennsylvania could be looking at a minimum of $10 million in savings through decriminalization, he said, citing Philadelphia, which saved $4 million after decriminalization in 2014.
Colorado, which legalized marijuana in 2012, saw $129 million in savings last year, he said.
DePasquale was quick to cite the state legislature as a major obstacle in legalization, saying when he proposed banning texting while driving, with 94 percent voter support, it still took six years for the bill to pass. This is why, he said, it’s important for municipalities to move forward on decriminalization.
“It puts grassroots pressure on the legislature to revisit the issue,” he said.
He likened the effort to change the law to a campaign, and said he plans on continuing to meet with municipal leaders across the state.
“Until the day the law is changed,” he said, “whether it’s decriminalization or regulation and taxation, I can’t stop.”
The borough council voted to change the possession of a small amount of marijuana from a misdemeanor offense to a summary offense in August 2016. The change in law affects only offenses that occur within the borough and not the surrounding municipalities.
State College police Chief John Gardner reported that, to this date, the ordinance has been used four times.
Borough Manager Tom Fountaine explained a recent amendment to the ordinance that covers drug paraphernalia, saying in the ordinance’s original draft, possession of marijuana was a summary offense but paraphernalia would still be considered a misdemeanor. Now, he said, simple possession is a single summary offense.
DePasquale’s meeting comes a day after the state Department of Health released an update on implementation of the Medical Marijuana Program, saying in a news release that more than 500 grower/dispenser applications have been received. The department anticipates it will issue permits by the end of June.
The Medical Marijuana Program was signed into law by Gov. Tom Wolf on April 17, 2016 and became effective a month later, the release said. It’s expected to be fully implemented in early 2018.