Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman’s recreational marijuana listening tour stopped at Lebanon’s Hebron Banquet Hall last night.

True to his word, Fetterman spent most of the ninety minute meeting sitting quietly and alone on an empty stage while a standing room only crowd of about 150 polite and attentive people listened to 43 diverse speakers take their turn at the microphone.

Those speakers skewed toward legalization of adult marijuana use, and a show of hands at meeting’s end looked to be about 60% in favor, with only a handful of undecideds.

Although he is on record as favoring legalization, Fetterman never announced his personal position to those attending, and only interrupted sparingly to clarify speakers’ positions or ask them to hurry up.

Those opposed to legalization primarily cited public safety concerns centering on the exposure of children, deaths and injuries from impaired driving, and the belief that marijuana is a gateway to more dangerous drugs.

A retired pastor argued that “every addict starts some way with marijuana.” A retired state trooper, now a school teacher, agreed, and added that decades of experience revealed that “the vast majority of regular marijuana users are unmotivated” and “to say that it’s not a gateway drug is a lie.”

Some opponents of outright legalization said they would not oppose reductions in criminal penalties.

A military veteran who spoke against legalization argued that, legal or not, marijuana use disqualifies those seeking to enlist in the National Guard, and would reduce the pool of qualified volunteers. Fetterman remarked that this was the first time in 35 meetings across the state that anyone had brought that up.

Those favoring legalization emphasized the benefits in taxation and strict quality control of legalized cannabis, the injustice of prison and lifelong criminal records for users, and that it would be harder for kids to get weed if they had to go to licensed dealers instead of street pushers.

One proponent scoffed at the claim that marijuana use reduces motivation, pointing out that scores of successful business people, scientists, professionals, and elected officials regularly use or have used marijuana with no ill effects, and that “there are lots of white collar weed successes out there” such as “Steve Jobs and Carl Sagan.”

Others maintained that marijuana doesn’t lead to death, unlike alcohol it doesn’t provoke violence, and that edibles and vaping eliminate the harmful effects of smoke.

One speaker favored legalization, but worried that it could eventually lead to market monopolization by a few huge companies. Another favored legalization, but “I won’t give up my guns to get marijuana.”

State Rep. Russ Diamond addresses the crowd, with County Commissioner Jo Ellen Litz waiting next to him. (William Trostel)

Pro or con, almost every speaker strongly approved of medical marijuana, although some, including State Representative Russ Diamond (R-102), expressed a fear that legalization for recreational use would stifle and divert resources from further medical research. Several representatives of local addiction and recovery organizations were undecided, but urged delaying legalization until more good data was available.

No law enforcement officers or prosecutors spoke.

Pennsylvania law currently prohibits the possession of any amount of marijuana for non-medical use, and imposes penalties of up to one year in jail and a $5,000 fine, plus a driver’s license suspension, for a conviction. However, many first time offenders caught with less than an ounce avoid conviction, jail, or a suspension by being placed on pretrial probation.

11 states now allow recreational use of marijuana, and thirty-three, including Pennsylvania, allow its use in some form for medical purposes. 26 members of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives have introduced a bill that would legalize marijuana use by adults, but it has been referred to a committee and is far from a vote.

Fetterman will submit a report to the governor once he has met in all 67 Pennsylvania counties. Governor Wolf has stated that he has no preconceived position on legalization. A March 2019 Franklin & Marshall College poll (PDF) showed that fifty-nine percent of Pennsylvania voters support legalization of marijuana, up from twenty-two percent in 2006.