Pa.’s Lt. Gov. brought his marijuana listening tour to Centre County. Here’s what he heard

Lt. Governor makes a stop in Centre County as part of statewide tour

Lt. Governor of Pennsylvania John Fetterman makes stop in Centre County to discus the legalization of recreational marijuana.
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Lt. Governor of Pennsylvania John Fetterman makes stop in Centre County to discus the legalization of recreational marijuana.

An overwhelming majority of the nearly 100 attendees at Lt. Gov. John Fetterman’s recreational marijuana listening tour in Centre County said they were pro-legalization.

But each person who spoke into the microphone Tuesday night at Alumni Hall in the HUB-Robeson Center had a different reason for their stance — some had seen friends and relatives go to jail over marijuana possession, others touted marijuana’s efficacy as a pain remedy and still others talked about its potential for economic development once legalized.

A retired Pennsylvania state police corporal said he was pro-legalization because he wanted his former colleagues to be able to go after serious criminals committing violent crimes and bringing hard drugs into the state.

“I’ve seen people persecuted at the same level for having a joint that they would have for carrying LSD, and I think that’s crap,” he said.

The focus on arresting drug dealers to get federal and state grant money, he said, hurts regular people and wastes police officers’ time.

“The person I was given to pick up (during a drug raid) was a woman (who) the year prior sold a prescription diet pill to a police informant so that she could pay her rent,” he said. “But it didn’t matter, because in the press release she was a drug dealer.”

Others who work in the legal system spoke of the mental and economic cost to those arrested for marijuana possession.

State Representative Scott Conklin, Centre County Commissioner Michael Pipe, Lt. Gov. John Fetterman and Centre County Commissioner Mark Higgins listen to a speaker during a discussion Tuesday on the legalization of recreational marijuana. Abby Drey

Local criminal defense attorney Matt McClenahen said those who are arrested for marijuana possession are “victims of an unjust law.”

“At the very least, make a small amount of marijuana and drug paraphernalia summary offenses that are not fingerprintable,” he said. “We can deal with these at the Magisterial District Court. It’s a lot cheaper.”

Though that would provide short-term relief, he said, “the only viable long-term solution is complete legalization and regulation similar to alcohol.”

Similarly, Kevin Horne, an attorney for Penn State Student Legal Services speaking as an individual citizen, said the cost of a marijuana conviction adds up for students.

For example, he said, most Penn State students found with a joint in their room would have to pay up to $1,750 — $1,300 to complete an Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition program required by the district attorney, $207 for a conviction expungement and another $250 for a university-required marijuana intervention course.

He said he supports legalization. “We would lose some business, obviously, but it would be the right thing to do,” he said.

Others touted the role legalization of marijuana could play in economic revitalization.

For Angel Rodriguez, the legalization of medical marijuana in Pennsylvania was “life changing.”

“I’ve seen a lot of people that went from being very poor to having a great life. I’m one of them, I went from my car to running the dispensary in State College,” he said.

Rodriguez, the general manager of Nature’s Medicines, a medical marijuana dispensary on North Atherton Street, said if he were able to open a recreational marijuana growing facility here, he could employ over 350 people in the area.

Many who spoke also said legalization could and should lead to more scientific studies around the effects of recreational marijuana.

Steven Baksa, a graduate student at Penn State studying materials science and engineering, said he supports legalization because currently, his department faces obstacles in researching marijuana since it is a Schedule 1 drug — ranked in the same class as heroin. With legalization, he said, he wants to see the correct labeling of marijuana and its contents and wants to see more federally approved studies that examine the effects of the drug.

State Representative Scott Conklin, Centre County Commissioner Michael Pipe, Lt. Gov. John Fetterman and Centre County Commissioner Mark Higgins listen to a speaker during a discussion about the legalization of recreational marijuana on Tuesday at the HUB-Robeson Center at Penn State. Abby Drey

Danelle Weller, a registered nurse working in Centre County, said she has firsthand seen how medical marijuana has provided relief of painful symptoms to many patients.

“I have seen more tragic accidents and problems as the result of alcohol use in this area,” she said.

She said she would also like to see more studies on marijuana and how it “can be used for good.”

Only one person spoke against legalization, though at least 10 members of the audience indicated they were against legalization.

Steve Woodward said he was “agnostic” about legalization because he “lost an entire decade as a result of the use and abuse of marijuana.”

He said people should look at how other states that legalized recreational marijuana have fared in terms of traffic accidents and hospital visits related to marijuana use.

Fetterman said his listening tour around 41 of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties has been interesting in that he’s heard a variety of perspectives surrounding marijuana legalization. Some counties, like Centre, have been mostly pro-legalization, he said, but there have been other counties more evenly split.

“One of the things that has emerged definitively in 41 counties is that virtually everybody supports decriminalization,” he said. “They don’t want to see people’s lives messed up over minor, nonviolent convictions. They love our medical marijuana program, and that’s a big change from where Pennsylvania used to be.”

Many people are also in favor of legalization, he said, because of the high cost of medical marijuana — particularly for those on fixed incomes — and the fact that it’s not reimbursed by insurance.

Once Fetterman and his team have visited all 67 counties, they will compile the results of the listening tour polls and submit a report to Gov. Tom Wolf. People will be able to click on a graphic from each county and see what people’s views on legalization are, he said.

Sarah Paez covers Centre County communities, government and town and gown relations for the Centre Daily Times. She studied English and Spanish at Cornell University and grew up outside of Washington, D.C.