Not if, but when, marijuana becomes legal in Pennsylvania

A hundred years ago, cannabis was a major cash crop in this state. Now, the unmistakeable shift toward re-legalization promises a new economic windfall for the future.

By Randy LoBasso
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 36 | Posted Oct. 2, 2013

Share this Story:

Meanwhile, while statewide attitudes are shifting, we still have a governor who calls pot a “gateway drug.” That’s a problem. As with so many other matters of public policy, Pennsylvania has spent the last three years watching other states make progress from afar. While legalization is on the march in other parts of the country, our own state continues spending $350 million a year just to enforce our outdated laws—which didn’t really ever make much sense in the first place.
 

IN 1933, THE SAME YEAR that the national prohibition on alcohol ended and the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board was founded, it was marijuana’s turn to be outlawed. Pot was banned in the commonwealth—as were, just for good measure, its non-drug cousins in the cannabis family, including hemp, a common industrial material.

Les Stark, a Lancaster-based historian, has written a book, Hempstone Heritage, about hemp farming in bygone Pennsylvania. His research shows that prior to banning cannabis, Pennsylvania was among the country’s foremost hemp producers. In fact, when William Penn founded the state in 1681, he intended for Pennsylvania to get into the hemp business—and two years later, the state’s General Assembly passed its first act regarding the production of the resource.

Per the 1683 legislation, Pennsylvania paid farmers a bounty per pound of hemp produced; that bounty was increased over the years several times. It was a successful incentive: Fifty years later, in 1733, production had grown to the point where the General Assembly repealed the subsidy because the state could no longer afford it.

The original Hempfield Township, Stark says, was named for the “vast quantities” of hemp raised there; between 1720 and 1870, more than 100 hemp processing mills could be found in Lancaster County alone. “We sent vast quantities of hemp down to Philadelphia to be made into rope in shipyards,” Stark says, “because Philadelphia had a big shipbuilding industry.” While much of the hemp was spun into sails and rope, he adds, a vast majority was used in Lancaster for clothing.

It also helped put one of Philadelphia’s most industrious families into the history books. Fitler Weaver & Co.’s Cordage Works was based in Frankford, at what was then the corner of Germantown Road and Turner’s Lane. According to the 1868 publication A History of American Manufactures from 1608 to 1860 by Leander Bishop, Edwin Troxell Freedley and Edward Young, the hemp rope manufacturer had facilities which were “so complete, and the machinery so perfect, that the Cordage cannot be surpassed in quality by any made in the world.”

Owner Edwin Fitler, who would eventually become mayor of Philadelphia and the namesake of Center City’s Fitler Square, maintained his hemp operation even after that factory burned down in 1866. He was quite a stickler for professional operations, it seems: “The system he has organized is so complete that the affairs of a vast and complicated business are managed with the minimum of trouble and labor,” according to A History of American Manufactures. “Every evening, an amount of the various kinds of hemp on hand is taken, and the quantity of the different sizes of rope in store is made up, and thus; every morning he has a complete and exact report of the state of affairs ready for his guidance during the day.”

Of course, today, Fitler would have no such manufacturing business—no warehouse at 23 Water Street in what’s now Old City, no mention in any book, and probably no Philadelphia neighborhood named after him.

So when Pennsylvania made marijuana illegal on May 22, 1933, the state sort of shot itself in the foot.

Pot use had soared nationally during the Prohibition period. Pennsylvania’s governor at the time, Gifford Pinchot, was a big-government progressive Republican of the Teddy Roosevelt circle. And he wasn’t just a devout forest conservationist, but a moralist as well: He expended the political effort to ban weed—and, incidentally, to “discourage the purchase of alcoholic beverages by making it as inconvenient and expensive as possible” through the PLCB. And though you wouldn’t get high even if you smoked a tree-trunk sized joint of hemp—it contains 0.3 percent THC—that cannabis plant was banned, too. “They saw the writing on the wall that liquor prohibition was coming to an end, so they made marijuana illegal,” says Stark. (The law banning marijuana in Pennsylvania was an amendment to a previous bill, passed in 1917, which banned cocaine and heroin from public consumption.)

The first known person arrested for a pot-related offense in the commonwealth was 81-year old Enos Schaefer, a hemp farmer who would admit to growing the plant but maintained he did not know it was illegal. He told police he was using the seeds to feed his chickens.
 

SCHAEFER’S 1938 ARREST may have been Pennsylvania’s first, but it was far from the last. Today, the state spends about $325 million per year policing marijuana offenses, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health. That money is just a portion of the $41.3 billion the United States spends annually on the enforcement of all drug laws. According to a 2010 Cato Institute study by Jeffrey A. Miron, an economist at Harvard University, about $8.7 billion in enforcement costs would be saved by legalizing marijuana across the country.

“The overall principle of banning things is problematic from the get-go,” Miron says. “When you’re banning things, you’re keeping people from purchasing things they think they want to purchase. Standard economics says that’s a bad idea—you create a lot of perverse incentives and unintended consequences: crime, corruption, poor quality control. And bans are very ineffective at achieving their stated goal—in this case, reducing drug use.”

Interestingly, a Pennsylvanian said that precise thing about marijuana 40 years ago.

In 1971, President Richard Nixon declared a war on drugs as a response to the anti-Vietnam hippie movement of the late 1960s and as part of his tough-on-crime agenda. Looking for someone to lead a commission that would put out a report justifying that drug war, Nixon went to a political ally: Pennsylvania’s Republican governor, Raymond Shafer.

Two years later, on March 22, 1973, Shafer’s report would be the opposite of what Nixon, now reelected but afflicted by the Watergate scandal, had been looking for. The 480-page Drug Use in America: Problem in Perspective warned against “the creation of ever larger bureaucracies, ever increasing expenditures of monies and an outpouring of publicity” that a war on drugs would bring. It also noted that the prohibition of marijuana might be illegal: “Regardless of whether or not the courts would overturn a prohibition of possession of marijuana for personal use in the home, we are necessarily influenced by the high place traditionally occupied by the value of privacy in our constitutional scheme.”

The Shafer report also said: “The actual and potential harm of use of the drug is not great enough to justify intrusion by the criminal law into private behavior, a step which our society takes only with the greatest reluctance.”

Nixon wasn’t impressed. He went ahead with the war on drugs anyway.

Thirty-five years later, Philadelphia state Rep. Mark Cohen wrote and introduced the Raymond P. Shafer Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act, named after the former governor who’d tried to head off the drug war. First introduced in 2009, Cohen’s legislation has never received a vote, though it did get hearings. The Shafer Act would require people to register as medical marijuana patients and pay a $50 fee after getting the recommendation from a doctor.

Cohen has re-introduced the bill this year; if it passed tomorrow (it won’t), we’d be the 19th state in the country with legal medicinal pot. “By legalizing marijuana for medicinal purposes,” Cohen said during a legislative session, “there should be a reduction in criminal prosecutions, as well as a weakening of the existing criminal networks selling marijuana.” He estimates that medical marijuana would bring in around $25 million in tax revenue per year.

Prev| Page: 1 2 3 |Next
Add to favoritesAdd to Favorites PrintPrint Send to friendSend to Friend

COMMENTS

Comments 1 - 36 of 36
Report Violation

1. Les Stark said... on Oct 2, 2013 at 12:33PM

“Great article and thank you!

Two minor corrections, the spelling is Enos Sheaffer and he was not the first person arrested in the state but rather the first person arrested in Lancaster County. Others had already been arrested in the Philadelphia area.

But thank you for you great journalism and it is true, it's not a matter of if but when!”

Report Violation

2. Anonymous said... on Oct 2, 2013 at 12:49PM

“There have been several wars over hemp since history began but always before the fights were over finished crops and seeds,,this last one since 1937 was brought through the back door,instead of trying to steal crops or seeds from a weaker neighbor industrialists stole the plant from mankind.”

Report Violation

3. Ed said... on Oct 2, 2013 at 01:38PM

“Lillian, what 1950's textbook have you gotten your "facts" from?

- Vast majority of Americans have tried pot. A vast majority of Americans still enjoy it, may of whom you may not even suspect.
- There is no evidence pot "kills brain cells". More BS propaganda based on bunk science
- Chances are your daughter is a stoner, and quite possibly your doctor, your pilot, and your local mailman. Plus hundreds of pioneers of industry including Steve Jobs, Ted Turner, Richard Branson, multiple olympic athletes, and yes even our own loveable President Obama.

Fortunately, your opinions are outdated and no longer the mainstream. We basically are waiting for you and your generation to die off, along with your ridiculous "facts".”

Report Violation

4. cmg said... on Oct 2, 2013 at 01:52PM

“OUTSTANDING article! ~I'd give almost anything in my possession~ (pot not withstanding.. and oh..not my children or first born grandchild either! lol) ~ to open up our daily Lancaster Newspaper.. and find THIS article on the Front Page! ..that would be so awesome!.. (they, however, have sticks up their pattooties).. and would most likely bury this INFORMATIVE piece of ~crystal clear newsworthy diamond~ in the deep dark inner sanctions of Section B ~for Boo ..hiss! ~ Write.. and RIGHT.. on ..my good man! Thank you for a great read!”

Report Violation

5. Lillian said... on Oct 2, 2013 at 02:07PM

“Thanks Ed and I love you back!
Trying pot and regularly using pot is quite different . There is ample data out there to support that brain cells are in fact killed when smoking marijuana on a regular basis and that its effects on growing adolescents are not positive. I would agree the mailman at my post office probably is one or at least gives a good impression of a stoner. Thanks also for being a cheerleader for the famous pot tryer's, but I doubt regular users. FYI: I don't use Apple, don't watch CNN, don't fly on Virgin, and I am most proud to say I did not vote for the current occupant in the Oval Office.
As for the 50's textbook? I wasn't around then and neither during the 60's, and I plan to be around for a long time just so narrow-minded folks like me can piss you off. :)!”

Report Violation

6. Ed said... on Oct 2, 2013 at 03:09PM

“Oh honey, you don't piss me off. I know your opinion is in the minority and will go the way of those who opposed things like gay marriage, racial equality, and women's rights. You're a dying breed...”

Report Violation

7. Dan said... on Oct 2, 2013 at 08:37PM

“”

Report Violation

8. Dan said... on Oct 2, 2013 at 08:54PM

“You hit the nail on the head man! Any way who said they would make it legal for young kids to use. I'm so tired of hearing about the kids smoking. If it was regulated correctly, kids won't have access. I mean do you see kids rolling into the liquor store buying booze?? Not to mention all of the medical benefits. Who are you or anyone to tell someone what they are allowed to use to treat ailments! I just love those people who bad mouth pot while drinking alcohol or are taking prescribed painkillers. The times they are achangin'. And for the better.Wake up people.”

Report Violation

9. cannabis.pro said... on Oct 2, 2013 at 09:33PM

“We are at 20 Medical Marijuana States, plus Washington DC. Marijuana is currently legal in three states, Alaska, Washington, & Colorado.

Pennsylvania needs to flush the good ol' boys down the toilet in Harrisburg for any of this healthy, economy boosting legislation to move forward.

Report Violation

10. Ian said... on Oct 2, 2013 at 11:01PM

“Lillian-
I understand you have your own perspective on pot, but you should look into the facts more. I am not trying to be rude or disrespectful, but you are WRONG. I am very pro pot and I am very against adolescents smoking weed. I admit i have smoked many many times and I am just about to turn 20 this year. I have no desire to bash anybody for their opinion but I will correct the facts. I suggest you check out Marijuana Policy Project, or MPP, via google. They have many scientific papers and documents on the subject. Please do not dismiss information because you believe it must be false. I really do believe in the cause. I hope you read this as I am willing to continue discussing this if you have any questions or arguments that I may not be aware of. Take care!
Ian

Report Violation

11. tielman said... on Oct 3, 2013 at 02:34AM

“I'm always amazed at the money side of this Weed debate. For egs. our presant attempt at a Governor has his eye on the White House and he's got the current userspeak down pat. To the levell we're supposed to applaud and smile at. The rut he's stuck in, as vouched for by a contribution in this discussion who'se ear he has obviously found, is that old kernal the gateway conspiricy.
Assuredly put to the simplest test of all. For the many times when you've been stoned with your friends when if ever did someone suggest we all go and do : herion, crystal meth, coke, opium and ALL THE PRESCRIPTION KILLERS that are legally obtainable, with a Dr.s prescription of course ? When ?
The political impact time is Now. Gov Christy is history. Pennsylvania must begin again its Hemp industry that will allow State Soverenty to finance is own Affairs, assist the Federal Govt. where possible with its debt problems, but that we're doing fine thank you uncle Sam.”

Report Violation

12. Mario said... on Oct 3, 2013 at 06:45PM

“Unfortunately, you are wrong Lillian. Read any information in new studies and you'll see that THC actually has shown to help cure various cancers, I'm sure when your older and get cancer you wont be opposed to using this amazing medicine. Also you need to read up on your neuro-biology before you start making statements that pot kills brain cells. Sorry to sound like a hater, but I cant stand when people use bunk propaganda to spread lies. Lets see.... huffing substances like glue kill braincells, why? because you cut off the oxygen from your brain.

The active ingredient in marijuana is THC along with cbd,cbdb, and various amounts of other cannabinoids. Do you know how they are recieved in the brain? I doubt it, but I'll explain it to you in the most dumbed down way I can. Basically your brain contains receptor cites that bind different neurotransmitters to receptors, neurotransmitters such as seratonin,dopamine,norepinephrine and so on. continue. on next post due to limitations”

Report Violation

13. Mario said... on Oct 3, 2013 at 06:52PM

“Things such as eating,exercise and so on release these neurotransmitters, and guess what? what? oh my our brain has contained SPECIFIC cites for cannabinoids to attach to, and why? Because our brain creates neurotransmitters that mimic THC and other cannabinoids. The brain and body readily metabolizes these and maintains a fairly stable levels, unlike introducing lets say heroin, which mimics the pain reducing neurotransmitter endorphins. Unlike heroin though, THC consumption does not down regulate receptor cites as readily(which is what would cause a physical addiction). IN NO WAY does the introduction of said cannabinoids kill Brain cells. You might think that since the effects seem to slow the brain. That is only because the effects of cannabinoids on the receptor cites (through natural cannabinoids) is used by the body to reduce stress, and alot of it has to do with being able to let go of memories. This is why THC is shown to be a very good PTSD medication”

Report Violation

14. Mario said... on Oct 3, 2013 at 06:58PM

“Also I have smoked pot nearly everyday of my life since i was 16, im now 25. I'm a College graduate with a degree in organizational management(although my passion is pharmacology,neuro-chemistry/biology). And I must say it seems like I'm a lot more educated, interested in being educated about, pretty much anything that has to do with the human body and brain than you are. I'm not trying to bash to hard, but please come with some REAL knowledge next time your going to try and demonize some people's life choices.”

Report Violation

15. k said... on Oct 4, 2013 at 02:27PM

“I smoke (actually vaporize) twice a day, have for 20 years (I'm over 40). I am a highly motivated, highly compensated technical expert. Pot has not killed my brain cells, my motivation, or my life in any way. In fact, it's allowed me to leave behind drinking alcohol, which I used to do in excess. I have a career, a family, a house and a fantastic quality of life. None of the purported negative effects of pot have materialized for me. In fact, the only negative effect of my marijuana consumption is the fact that I presume my money is being funnelled to criminal organizations, and that's due to solely ot the illegality of it. Stupid stupid law supported by ignorant people.”

Report Violation

16. VICTOR said... on Oct 20, 2013 at 03:26PM

“Hello, I am 63 years old and I have so much pain to it is ashamed, I need pot for my pain, all these medications that I take don't do anything for my pain. please some one help me, I live in Pennsylvania”

Report Violation

17. Pauly bagodoughnuts said... on Oct 31, 2013 at 07:58PM

“I consider myself a conservative, but I do agree that Pa needs to reform its Marijuana laws 100%. I think it is a personal choice like alcohol or tobacco, not up to state or federal government to decide. I have, and will continue to voice my opinion to conservative lawmakers and candidates. The decision should be left up to the people.”

Report Violation

18. Anonymous said... on Nov 4, 2013 at 09:12PM

“Just thinking; majority of people I have talked to that do NOT support the legalisation of marijuana are also pro-abortion? Coincidence? I think not. Baby killers. People that smoke weed are too busy putting money towards the munchies and watching horrible films and knowing its bad but its great!! Too high to think about making bad choices, just wanna have fun lay back and have the comfort of smoking and not letting the daily stresses of life impact us negatively so we feel the need to drink. Sit in the comfort of our home and blaze one and you'll see within those few moments you won't even remember why your day was so bad in the first place. LEGALIZE. -Chase I. P.s. my abortion statistic was false.
.”

Report Violation

19. Anonymous said... on Nov 10, 2013 at 10:54PM

“I can't wait. I am so tired of waking up every morning and wondering, will today be the day I become a criminal? Just because I'm old, I hurt, and marijuana eases the pain and helps these old bones move without pain. I truly hope this happens soon. If not, I'm going to stick a For Sale sign in the front yard, pack the house up, and take my tax paying butt back home to California.”

Report Violation

20. master grower421 said... on Nov 12, 2013 at 02:34PM

“Lets do it”

Report Violation

21. Anonymous said... on Dec 9, 2013 at 05:13PM

“Legalize it it can make a lot if profit and it's fine”

Report Violation

22. Anonymous said... on Dec 16, 2013 at 12:02PM

“I don't know if your information is incorrect or the police officer abused his power, but when I was arrested for smoking weed I was certainly put in handcuffs, but I'm not from Philly. It was not a pleasant experience.”

Report Violation

23. Mr.legalize said... on Dec 16, 2013 at 10:39PM

“im from PA we need to legalize for ALL uses, I really want to move to Colorado and blase up there, are so many uses for it and most people do it anyway or at least most people I know honestly the sooner the better.”

Report Violation

24. Anonymous said... on Dec 22, 2013 at 04:20AM

“The one thing I don't hear in all these posts is voting. I live in Pittsburgh and I take 3 different pain meds 4 times a day to help with my pain. I have smoked and I feel so much better after. Unfortunately I don't want to break the law. We all need to stand together and contact our legislators. I have sent letters and emails to our politicians saying I vote and these laws to change. They might not listen to me or my neighbor but thousands who write they can't ignore. In Colorado they didn't listen on the gun laws and got voted out. Use the voting booth to get rid of our old guard will effect the changes we need. They want to keep their jobs.”

Report Violation

25. amphilos said... on Dec 30, 2013 at 12:46PM

“Thanks for this outstanding post... I could say a lot, about the Lillian's of the world. Also when are we going to wake up and throw the people who come with lies and bad science philosophy out of our body politic. When we realize that the PA State Legislature belongs to the people of Pennsylvania that's the hemp of the matter. If we look at our 100 year history we will have enough information and education as well as ammunition to appeal these lies. The State Legislature is the key in legalizing marijuana for medical recreational and industrial use it would be a win for the mom and pop business within our towns and cities big or small and that's a fact!

Thanks FAYD! Legalized don't penalize!”

Report Violation

26. Anonymous said... on Dec 30, 2013 at 05:58PM

“Why is it not 18?”

Report Violation

27. Anonymous said... on Dec 30, 2013 at 06:01PM

“I would qualify but not my age”

Report Violation

28. Anonymous said... on Jan 2, 2014 at 03:10AM

“I have widespread body pain due to a rare disease, but I do not use pot to keep me from the pain that makes me feel like I am going to die; I use meloxicam, its legal and with insurance cost less than $10 a month, I'm not drug impaired nor have that pot funk on me.”

Report Violation

29. Anonymous said... on Jan 2, 2014 at 03:17AM

“Mario you are incorrect, pot does not cure cancer, it only helps with the side effects of cancer treatment.”

Report Violation

30. Anonymous said... on Jan 3, 2014 at 06:43AM

“I too am a long time user, not abuser, and didn't even start smoking until I was 18. An adult where under federal law I am legally able to make decisions, vote or even be drafted. If it is regulated, which it would be, it poses no threat to adolescents or anyone else. Especially if I am enjoying it alone, in my own house. Currently you're made to feel like a criminal just to buy it. Or you depend on unreliable & unregulated marijuana, and it's very tragic. I'd love to be able to just pop over to a store to purchase instead, I'm in the position I'm in now; knowing no one trustworthy, unable to buy and unable to sleep for days.

Oh a btw lilian, if you ever get cramps from your monthly period (possibly weekly it seems) you know what would help alleviate that discomfort? No not midol”

Report Violation

31. Anonymous said... on Jan 15, 2014 at 12:28AM

“No victim, No crime! If the state truly cares about drugs and prostitution then put the money into better treatment programs and education. Stop wasting our tax dollars on victimless crimes. The only benefactors are private prisons. When Pennsylvania voters realize that Corbett is nothing more than a private prison building machine and not interested in decriminalizing anything, maybe then we can talk about silly Marijuana laws that don't make any sense.”

Report Violation

32. Anonymous said... on Jan 28, 2014 at 12:37PM

“In fact, alcohol prohibition created entirely new opportunities for criminals to build fortunes and did nothing to stop people from drinking. Make it legal and put it in state stores , then we the people would know it isn't cut with something bad. The tax from it would help get our schools out of debt.”

Report Violation

33. Anonymous said... on Jan 30, 2014 at 07:13AM

“If it's legalized. There should be no smoke shops! It should be dispersed threw a pharmacy in pill form. Also all prescription assigned the user should be forced to surrender all driving privileges. If caught under the influence of the substance should be the same as DUI.

Report Violation

34. PaStoner said... on Feb 3, 2014 at 04:40PM

“I believe Mary Jane should be legalized (PA Resident). Do some research what harms does smoking a plant do to us. Nothing really but why are two substances such as Alcohol & Cigarettes legalized which are killing us. So PA Please LEGALIZE MARY JANE”

Report Violation

35. Anonymous said... on Mar 12, 2014 at 08:24AM

“I bet all ur synapses look great, all nice and slow! You're cerebellum, too, nice and fried!!!! GO MJ”

Report Violation

36. Anonymous said... on Mar 17, 2014 at 01:19AM

“Icant beleive what some of you ignorant stupid sick totally mis-informed crazy communist control freak evil cruel hateful A--HOLES say and think . You never smoked or you would understand how it effects people. Surrender your drivers license, take it in a pill..Are you nuts? People like you should not be able to vote, and need to smoke. And need to suffer with terrible pain so you can learn compassion. You would make a great Dictator.”

ADD COMMENT

Rate:
(HTML and URLs prohibited)