State Sen. Leach makes an economic case for legalizing marijuana in Pennsylvania

But money, more than moral appeals or anything else, might talk the loudest in the drive to decriminalize marijuana in Pennsylvania, particularly in the current era of budget shortfalls and lingering economic uncertainty. And with financial concerns helping to fuel the passage of historic pot legalization laws in Colorado and Washington State in November — as well as the introduction of a bill in the U.S. House of Representatives on Tuesday that would legalize and levy an excise tax on the sale of the drug — perhaps now is a better time than ever to convince skeptical state lawmakers of the cash benefits of getting into the marijuana business.

At least that’s what State Sen. Daylin Leach (D-17) believes.

“The economic argument, at the end of the day, will probably be the most effective in changing this terrible policy we’ve had in place for too long,” said Leach, who represents parts of Montgomery County and has long been one of the state legislature’s staunchest pro-marijuana voices.

On Monday afternoon in Harrisburg, Leach plans to unveil the details of a Senate bill he’s introducing that would legalize the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana in Pennsylvania for any purpose — recreational, medicinal or otherwise — which essentially follows the lead of the new Colorado and Washington State laws. That, he contended, would create a sizable annual revenue source for the state through the regulation and taxation of the drug, as well as create a wealth of new jobs.

Citing data from the Office of National Drug Control Policy, Leach said that legalizing pot would save Pennsylvania the approximately $325 million per year it spends on the prosecution of marijuana offenses. In terms of the tax revenue implications, according to numbers derived from the annual National Survey on Drug Use and Health — a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services-sponsored state-by-state survey of marijuana usage, among other things — there are around one million Pennsylvanians who identify themselves as pot smokers.

“My bill doesn’t set the tax rate for marijuana, but let’s say for argument’s sake that the rate is a buck a joint,” said Leach. “And let’s say that the average marijuana smoker smokes four joints a week — that’s about $200 a year per smoker, so that’s at least $200 million a year in tax revenue.” Put together, that’s just over half a billion dollars a year injected into the Pennsylvania budget — a conservative estimate, he argues.