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Philadelphia voters overwhelmingly approved a measure this week that puts pressure on the State Assembly to legalize marijuana. 

A whopping 72 percent of the city’s voters gave the go-ahead to Question 1, which calls for the establishment of a commercial recreational cannabis industry.

The resolution states that “citizens of Philadelphia call upon the Pennsylvania General Assembly and the Governor to pass legislation that will decriminalize, regulate, and tax the use, and sale to adults aged 21 years or older, of cannabis for non-medical purposes.”

That vast margin of approval shouldn’t surprise anyone who saw a recent Franklin & Marshall College poll which found, across the state of Pennsylvania, that 60 percent of voters support the legalization of recreational cannabis.

What’s this mean in terms of the people of Philly being able to access ganja? Not much. The resolution, which was sponsored by City Council member Derek Green, is more of a call to action for state-level legislators, who have dragged on passing cannabis reform laws despite the fact that varioius jurisdictions in the state have decriminalized marijuana possession.

Several pieces of legislation have been presented at the state level this year to widen cannabis access, including a bipartisan senate bill introduced last month. That bill would create a commercial industry for cannabis, but prohibit home grows for anyone who wasn’t a registered medical marijuana patient. 

Adult use legalization has remained evasive, even when many political strategists thought the move was “inevitable” for Philadelphia after it was struck hard economically by the COVID-19 pandemic. On the other hand, the state’s medical marijuana program counts 150,000 registered patients. And in other steps forward in 2020, a state judge ruled that the smell of weed alone could not justify a vehicle search, and the House of Representatives approved a law that protects medical patients from DUI charges. 

Philadelphia decriminalized possession in 2014, a move largely motivated by racially-biased policing. Unfortunately, that step alone was not enough to solve the problem. Subsequent studies revealed that city police continue to target people of color, with one in four marijuana citations being handed out in the same Black West Philadelphia neighborhood during the first four years of decriminalization. 

Nonetheless, the metropolis’s City Council has been doing what it can to remove drug stigma, even as recreational cannabis remains illegal at the state level. In April, the council members approved a measure to ban many businesses from requiring pre-employment cannabis screening for employees — a plan that was also proposed by Green.

Not everyone was in favor of the plan. On the day before the election, the Philadelphia Inquirer ran an op-ed by anti-cannabis activist Kevin Sabet that said cannabis regulation does little for social justice. Sabet also cited dubious stats about high potency oils as a scare tactic: “Now, marijuana products are often as high as 99% THC,” he wrote. Huh.

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