WHOA: Heritage Foundation Supports Marijuana Legalization in Pennsylvania

(AP Photo/Eduardo Verdugo, File)

There’s a debate going on right now about possible marijuana legalization in Pennsylvania in 2021.

As I wrote here last summer, there’s a strong fiscal argument for legalizing marijuana – one that’s likely to get even stronger the longer COVID and the shutdown-induced damage to the economy runs.

But the proposal hasn’t been as popular as, say, tax cuts with conservative groups within and outside the state, which makes this (via Politico) last week noteworthy:

SHOULD THE STATE SELL WEED? — The idea of state-sponsored marijuana distribution has supporters across the political spectrum, from Democratic Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf to Republican Utah Sen. Evan VickersEven those concerned about marijuana legalization like Paul Larkin, a senior legal research fellow at the conservative think tank Heritage Foundation, are proponents of the idea, arguing that the model would lessen the public health risks of legal cannabis.

Note the bold: This is the Heritage Foundation, perhaps the think-tank in America that most embodies conservatism, including social and cultural conservatism, endorsing an idea that has historically been characterized as policy only supported by dirty hippies in Berkeley (OK, to be fair, also National Review).

Of further note: The National Taxpayers Union is said to be recommending a vote to legalize marijuana in several states next week, including Arizona. And the traditionally more conservative Cannabis Trade Federation, to which Republican former Rep. Carlos Curbelo is an advisor, has recently shifted its stance on federal legislation to pro-federal legalization, as opposed to “leave it up to the states” stance. Collectively, we’re seeing a lot more interest in the idea of legalizing on the right, especially as state budget season gets closer, and COVID shutdowns have hammered state budgets and local economies.

These moves by right-leaning groups might raise a few eyebrows and change a few minds in Harrisburg.

Pennsylvania’s Commonwealth Foundation has been perceived to be opposed to legalization, but a closer look at their statements raises the question of whether they really are, or whether they simply believe legalization won’t bring enough to the proverbial budget party to merit prioritization over other measures aimed at improving Pennsylvania’s economy, budget position, and health care situation.

As previously noted, an analysis by Mair Strategies shows that depending on the legalization model used, Pennsylvania could reap as much as $860 million a year in new tax revenue. Pennsylvania’s current budget hole is projected to come out at about $5 billion, so it is correct to say legalization is not a silver bullet solution. Nonetheless, it could help stave off other tax increases that the legislature and governor may pursue, especially if Democrats perform well in next week’s election, and this probably helps explain why conservative groups and politicians are warming to the idea.