HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) – Auditor General Eugene DePasquale has made it clear in recent weeks that his office doesn’t just focus on bookkeeping and making sure the dollars and cents add up.
On Monday, he jumped into the public policy arena with both feet by calling for the legalization of recreational marijuana. He calls it a drug that will ease the state’s fiscal ills.
“There are fiscal reasons to do this,” DePasquale said forcefully.
With a budget deficit between $2-3 billion, DePasquale said tough decisions will have to be made. He says that’s his primary motivation in calling for the legalization of recreational marijuana. He also thinks many of you agree with him.
“Nationwide, polling is moving almost 60 percent in favor of regulation and taxation,” said DePasquale, who estimates it could generate $200 million a year to feed a state budget with a bad case of the munchies.
Eight other states – Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington – have already legalized it. DePasquale says legislatures in three of Pennsylvania’s neighbors – Delaware, Maryland, and New Jersey – are considering it. He doesn’t want Pennsylvania to miss the bus.
“Now that we have actual results and data from other states, the evidence is clear this can be both good socially and fiscally,” DePasquale said.
But not everyone agrees.
“I don’t think that’s a wise move right now,” Sen. Scott Martin (R-Lancaster) said. He worries about sending the wrong message about drugs when the state is simultaneously trying to combat an opioid epidemic. He doesn’t think most constituents in his district would approve and he also has questions about the District of Columbia’s most famous resident.
“What’s gonna happen with the federal government and the attorney general’s office? Are they gonna reclassify that? Because right now, federally, it’s an offense,” Martin said, in reference to U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions who has threatened a federal crackdown on states that legalize recreational pot.
DePasquale challenged Sessions to “bring it on.”
“If we’re gonna operate the state of Pennsylvania in fear of what a crazy man’s gonna do, then we’re not gonna do anything,” DePasquale said defiantly in answering a question about the federal threats toward recreational marijuana.
But it’s not crazy to worry about social costs. Martin expressed those concerns and said he shares them with addiction counselors across the state. And what about the impaired driving and teen drug use implications?
“We could regulate it the same way we regulate alcohol, where we try to keep it out of the hands of minors,” DePasquale said.
The Legislature is pretty mellow about recreational marijuana; there is no spirited push to legalize.Gov. Tom Wolf is also lukewarm saying in a statement that he’d like to see further study in states that have already passed it.
“When somebody says, ‘Oh let’s study the issue,’ that’s secret code in this building for let’s never have to actually deal with this issue,” DePasquale said.
The governor and auditor general agree that the state should decriminalize marijuana. That, they both suggest, could save Pennsylvania millions in incarceration costs.
This is the second straight week that DePasquale has strayed outside the traditional boundaries of his office. Last week, he announced a special report on child welfare in Pennsylvania.
Many believe the popular, moderate Democrat is angling for higher office in the future. It is unclear, however, what that office may be. Fellow York countian Tom Wolf has all but announced he will seek re-election for governor.