A marijuana legalization bill being introduced to the Pennsylvania Senate on Monday might have a shot at passage if lawmakers were able to vote via “secret ballot,” Pennsylvania Sen. Daylin Leach (D) told Raw Story.
Leach, the bill’s sponsor and minority chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, will introduce his proposal Monday afternoon alongside Law Enforcement Against Prohibition Executive Director Neill Franklin, a former Baltimore narcotics officer.
“We would never have the policy that we have now if we were starting from scratch and analyzing what should and should not be legal,” Leach said. “This is a relic of a time gone by when economic forces caused cannabis prohibition, and we’re sort-of stuck with it until we do something about it.”
Leach’s bill is a longshot: According to a recent Franklin & Marshall College poll (PDF) of 622 likely voters, 55 percent oppose legalization in the state while just 36 percent are in favor. The survey found that legalizing marijuana for medical use was much more popular with voters, at about 82 percent in favor versus 16 percent opposed. Despite the numbers, however, Leach’s medical marijuana bills have been largely ignored.
Despite the apparent opposition, Leach is undeterred, and LEAP is standing by his side. “He’s not the only one considering a bill like this,” Franklin said. “Policymakers throughout the country — I think you’re going to see some activity in Rhode Island and other states where policymakers have finally realized this is not the third-rail issue it used to be. They’re beginning to realize this is the direction the majority of their constituents and people across the nation want to go in. So it’s just a matter of time.”
“This is inevitable. This will pass. It may take two, it may take four years,” Leach added. “A majority of people don’t support marijuana legalization simply because they haven’t really had cause to revisit the issue in their minds. Once you sit down with people and explain the harm it does in a wide variety of ways, and the befits we can accrue through legalization, I think that people will very quickly change their minds.”
Lawmakers are chief among those who’ve seen the light, he said. “We will not be here 20 years from now talking about marijuana and whether we should legalize it or not,” Leach insisted. “It will be long over before then. We’re right on the precipice of it… We’re going to look in a year or two at Colorado and Washington and say, ‘My God. They’ve stopped putting college kids in jail and they’ve started building roads and bridges.’”
He added that some of his “most conservative” colleagues have agreed with him about prohibition of marijuana in private, saying it’s “just another government program” that’s not giving taxpayers what they are paying for.
“I was just at a judicial conference where a lot of the judges were very supportive [of legalization],” Leach said. “They’re dealing with this stuff every day. I have a weird genetic mutation where I seek out controversy where others do not. So there’s many who won’t put their name out front on an issue until it gets [mainstream] in their minds. If there was a secret ballot, I predict legalization would pass.”
“This promotes the educational process,” Franklin added, comparing Leach’s bill to California’s failed Prop. 19 ballot initiative in 2010. “It allows people to begin to learn the details regarding such a move… so that as the years go by, eventually the legislation will pass.”
Stephen C. Webster is the senior editor of Raw Story, and is based out of Austin, Texas. He previously worked as the associate editor of The Lone Star Iconoclast in Crawford, Texas, where he covered state politics and the peace movement’s resurgence at the start of the Iraq war. Webster has also contributed to publications such as True/Slant, Austin Monthly, The Dallas Business Journal, The Dallas Morning News, Fort Worth Weekly, The News Connection and others. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenCWebster.
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