This Man Holds the Fate of Pa. Cannabis Decriminalization in His Hands

Posted by on Jul 25, 2017 in Blog

In the Pennsylvania legislature there are some members who wield a tremendous amount of power. Some of those are men like House Majority Leader Dave Reed, House Speaker Mike Turzai and several others.

Some of the most powerful members are the chairs of the committees.

All bills that are introduced are assigned to a committee. A committee can have anywhere from 12 to 24 members. Senate committees are smaller than House committees.

20371199_10210009168965935_490964408_nIn any committee, although each member has one vote, there is only one person who really wields the power and that is the chair of that committee. In the House Judiciary Committee that man is Ron Marsico.

Right now, there are two bills for decriminalization of cannabis that are sitting in the House Judiciary Committee chaired by Representative Ron Marsico.

1977223_734016720054185_6009592695473201343_nKCC supports HB195, which was introduced by Representative Ed Gainey. It is a very good bill. It eliminates the threat of jail for possession of up to an ounce of cannabis, lowers the maximum fine to $100, reduces the charges from a criminal misdemeanor to a summary offense and removes the threat of losing your driver’s license.

The other bill that sits in the House Judiciary Committee chaired by Marsico is HB928. It is very similar to Rep. Gainey’s bill but the max fines are higher. KCC does not enthusiastically support HB928 but we do not oppose it. If it passes it will be a major victory for us and will put us in a much more tolerable position while we work for the full legalization of cannabis that includes the right to grow our own.

The last I checked, HB195 had two dozen cosponsors. 23 of them were Democrats. Although KCC supports HB195 we also realize that the state senate and house are both controlled by large Republican majorities. Every single head of every single committee is a Republican. Democrat bills, especially on matters relating to cannabis are a steep climb.

The path of least resistance is probably HB928. It was introduced by Representative Barry Jozwiak of Berks County. Jozwiak was a career law enforcement officer until he became a lawmaker just a few years ago. He is the type of champion that conservative Republicans like, a law and order man proposing a more reasonable approach. They can get behind that.

PORTJozwiakRep. Jozwiak introduced HB928 at the behest of Berks County District Attorney, John Adams. That also bodes well for us, an endorsement from a law and order District Attorney. Most of the cosponsors of HB928 are Republicans.

In April, we met with Chairman Marsico to discuss moving these bills to pass them out of committee so we can debate and get a floor vote. We suggested that the House Judiciary Committee hold hearings on HB195 and HB928.

Chairman Marsico and his chief of staff both seemed open to holding hearings on the bill but said that they were busy until at least June, which they indicated would be the earliest time to schedule such hearings. Chairman Marsico did not tip his hand but all three of us who attended the meeting agreed that he seemed to be ON OUR SIDE. The arguments we made in favor of decriminalization seemed to make sense to him and he seemed to agree that the time has come to address the need to take away the threat of jail and reduce penalties.

Well, here we are in July and still no word on hearings. No news of anything happening with HB195 or HB928. It’s just sitting there, in the Judiciary Committee, chaired by Rep. Ron Marsico.

In our conversation, Chairman Marsico admitted that HB928 had a far greater chance of passing than HB195. He seemed to be in favor of HB928. The problem was, HB928 had already been referred to the House Transportation Committee. We wanted that bill in Marsico’s committee and he did too, so he made a motion to have the bill re-referred to the Judiciary Committee and it was done. Now he has it and has complete power over it, to let it die or to pass it on to the House.

18156352_1227090214080164_8842963523030944600_oA couple weeks after our meeting with Marsico and his staff, we held the Pennsylvania Marijuana Decriminalization Rally in the Maine Rotunda of the State Capitol in Harrisburg. One of our speakers was Representative Ed Gainey, prime sponsor of HB195, the bill supported by KCC. Gainey took us to CHURCH with his soaring Martin Luther King-esqe rhetorical oratory. He stirred the passions in the 400 people who gathered to support immediate decriminalization and full legalization of cannabis.

Given our movements embrace and support of HB195 we think Representative Gainey has earned some serious political clout.

If the Republicans want to pass Representative Jozwiak’s HB928, they need the support of Ed Gainey and all of his cosponsors.

We are hoping to see some form of compromise between Gainey’s bill and Jozwiak’s bill. Maybe they can meet in the middle and come up with something that everyone can support. When hearings are held hopefully it will lead to the committee adopting language that we all can support.

When we passed hemp legislation the key were the senate and house Agriculture and Rural Affairs committees. We were told that most members of the legislature know nothing about agriculture, so if the ag committees pass on a bill it is almost always certain to pass.

In the same way, if the House Judiciary Committee passes on the billto the House it will be as though they baptized the bill, blessed it and passed it on with a strong recommendation of passing it. If we can get a floor vote, we will win. If we can win in the House then we will definitely win in the Senate and we know that Governor Wolf will sign it.

How do we get to that point though? What do we have to do to make this happen? We have to educate our lawmakers and press them to support and take action on HB195 and HB928. This is the order of importance of who we must convince.

th1124O2J6

1. Chairman Ron Marsico – Although every single committee member must be educated and asked to support HB195 and HB928, Marsico is the man who we must persuade to move this legislation. He is the man who wields ALL the power to move or to kill any bill in his committee. He represents Dauphin County and his cousin is the DA of Dauphin County, Ed Marsico. Ed Marsico was a supporter of the decriminalization ordinance passed by Harrisburg City Council in July of 2016. Call Ron Marsico’s office and ask him to hold hearings on HB195 and HB928. You can reach him at his Harrisburg office at (717) 652-3721 or his capitol office at (717) 783-2014.

2. Every member of the House Judiciary Committee – Next to Marsico, the next most important person to reach is Demoratic Chair Joseph Petrarca. All members of the Judiciary Committee must hear from citizens, must be educated and persuaded to support decrim and taking action in their committees. None of them wield the power of the chairman but we will have to count on their Yes votes. You can find Judiciary Committee members and their contact numbers on this site.

3. Every member of the General Assembly – Start with your own state senator and your own representative. Your state senator cannot cosponsor HB195 or HB928 because those are House bills. They still must be educated and their support for decrim must be achieved. Right now, most of our focus is on the Representatives in the House. Once the bill is passed out of committee and voted on and passed in the House then it will be time to focus all efforts on the Senate.

4. Public support – Without focused attention on dealing with the legislators in the General Assembly all the public support in the world won’t mean anything. However, although the most recent F&M poll showed that 56% of Pennsylvanians support full legalization of cannabis, there is still LOTS of resistance and some districts where support for legalization is lower than the state average. For this reason, continuing education of the public is absolutely necessary. To accomplish this, it is useful to write letters and op-eds to the newspapers, write blogs, share articles on Facebook, Twitter and other social media, and anything else you can think of to educate as many people as you know why decriminalization and legalization are good policies.

I saw a story today called Despite Growing Support for Marijuana, Legalization Faces Rocky Road on Pewtrusts.org. It contained this quote:

“G. Terry Madonna, a public affairs professor who coordinates polling for Franklin and Marshall College, says legislatures are unlikely to take up legalization because most are controlled by Republicans who are less likely to support marijuana legalization and because supporters of legal marijuana don’t care enough about legalization to pressure lawmakers into voting for it.

9251426_orig“The question I always ask is, ‘Do [voters] care about it?’ ” he said. “What’s the level of concern that they have. And right now, for the vast majority of Americans, it’s not a cutting-edge issue.”

Sigh. “Supporters of legal marijuana don’t care enough about legalization to pressure lawmakers into voting for it.”

Is that true? Are our supporters too apathetic to win? There has been some truth to this so far. Lots of people have been doing work on this issue and KCC is on the front lines. We appreciate all of those who have stood with us and fought the battles so far. If we are going to win the next victory though it is going to take the continued effort of all of us AND we must grow our movement.

The decriminalization bills in the House Judiciary Committee are not dead. We have until the last day of December of next year before the bills are dead. Our goal has been to pass a decrim bill by the time the medical cannabis dispensaries open up. We are racing to meet that goal. If not, we MUST pass it before the current two year legislative session is up. Failure is not an option.

Take-A-Stand-e1397491401780I hope you can help KCC by joining in our efforts to persuade Chairman Marsico to hold hearings on HB195 and HB928, gain the support of every member of the Judiciary Committee and to garner enough support to win on the floor votes.

You can support the efforts of KCC by making a generous donation today.

Thank you, together with your help we WILL win!

 

Les Stark

Executive Director, Keystone Cannabis Coalition

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Reading Eagle Editorial Board Spouts Reefer Madness

Posted by on May 23, 2017 in Blog

05 - Reefer MadnessThe editorial staff of the Reading Eagle must be smoking the most mind-crippling substance around. Somewhere, somehow, they got too big of a whiff of the old reefer madness.

The editorial board wrote an editorial that they published on May 22, 2017 called: “Editorial: Marijuana legalization wrong, regardless of poll results”

The Issue: A recent survey finds more than half of Pennsylvanians support allowing recreational use of pot.
Our Opinion: Changing the state’s policy on this issue would be bad for public health.”

The editors of the Reading Eagle do not believe that just because the majority of people want legalization that we should have legalization. They opened up their editorial with:

“While a recent poll found increasing support in Pennsylvania for legalizing the recreational use of marijuana, we urge legislators to hold their ground on this issue and avoid a knee-jerk reaction that they could very well regret. According to a Franklin & Marshall College poll, 56 percent of registered voters favor legalization, marking the first time the survey has found more than half of Pennsylvanians take that view. In 2006, just 22 percent favored legalization.”

Knee-jerk reaction? I’ll tell you what a knee-jerk reaction is – making this stuff illegal in the first place. In 1846 Dr. Isaac Hiester cured a man named Charles Sassaman of lock-jaw with cannabis in Reading. By the 1850’s cannabis was sold in the pharmacies of Reading. In 1865 famous Reading resident Herman Strecker wrote about his use of hashish for medicine and rebuked those who stuck their nose in his business for doing so and called them asses.

Cannabis was used in Reading up until the 1920’s. That’s when Mexicans started flocking to Reading to work in their industrial plants. A local Reading police officer was a veteran of the Spanish-American War. He hated these new arrivals. They brought cannabis with them. On the streets of Reading one day Officer Knopp arrested a Mexican man who resisted and slashed him across the face. Knopp blamed it on “marihuana”.

In November of 1932 a Berks County man from West Lawn named Chester A. Mohn was elected as a freshman state representative and took office in January of 1933. He had heard the story of Knopp’s altercation with the Mexican man on Penn Street and introduced a bill to make “marihuana” illegal in March of 1933.

gateway-drug-pot-opens-doorThere was very little debate. The newspapers were printing reefer-madness hysteria. It was a slam dunk. It took about two months to pass it. The bill was signed into law by prohibitionist Governor Gifford Pinchot on May 22, 1933 and went into effect on September 1, 1933. All because of a story he heard about in Reading. Now THAT’S a knee-jerk reaction.

The editors went on to write:
“We recognize that this poll result is part of a national trend of changing views on the subject, but we remain strongly opposed to legalization. Our state does not need to make it easier for people to obtain this potentially addictive, mind-altering substance. Mainstream medical organizations including the American Medical Association, American Academy of Pediatrics and American Psychiatric Association still oppose legalization because it represents a danger to public health.”

thPIXMME9BMake it easier to obtain? Seriously? Do they not know how easy it is to get now? A danger to public health? I’ll tell you what’s a danger to public health – putting people in jail for association with a plant.

They continued:
“Marijuana is a mood-altering drug capable of producing dependency,” the American Society of Addiction Medicine wrote. “While popularly thought to be a fairly benign ‘drug,’ marijuana can have adverse effects on memory and learning, perception, behavior and functioning, and on pregnancy.”

The editors are dependent themselves. They are dependent on lies and lunacy. They thought that reefer-madness was benign, not realizing the negative effects on their memory, learning, perception, behavior and functioning. They have no memory, no knowledge of history. Their perception is way off.

The institutionalized ignorance continued with:
“We are quite familiar with the argument that if liquor is legal, marijuana should be as well. We disagree. Our culture struggles to deal with the ill effects caused by alcohol abuse and drunken driving as it is. Putting another addictive, mind-altering substance on the market will only make matters worse. We are particularly concerned about the possibility of more minors trying the drug once it’s legalized.”

Putting another substance on the market? The whole reason journalists exist is to uncover the news, to investigate, to report on what is going on, to know the community. Yet they so blindly have failed to pick up on the fact that cannabis is everywhere and always has been. It’s been a rite of passage in our culture for a couple generations and is firmly entrenched part of our American culture. It’s always been here, still is and it’s never going away. Ever.

somebody-please-think-of-the-children-en-ffffff Those minors. Always concerned with those minors. Oh no, what if they smoke pot! Horrors! Do they not even know that kids have been smoking pot for over 80 years? They ought to know, they’ve been telling us for over 80 years. That’s why they banned it in the first place back in the 30’s, because kids were getting it on the school ground. Then the 40’s came and they were alarmed because the kids were smoking it. Then the 50’s came, rock and roll happened and the authorities were alarmed that more kids were smoking it than ever. Then came the 60’s and we all know what happened in the 60’s. They said they had an epidemic of kids smoking cannabis. Then the 70’s came and they said more kids were smoking it than ever. I graduated in 1984 and half my class smoke or tried pot. I knew people that graduated in the 90’s and they told me there was plenty of pot in high school.

Now they think that if we legalized cannabis, taxed it and regulated it, set the age at 21 and strictly enforced it, somehow THAT’S going to get kids smoking it. This kind of foolish idiocy hurts us all. The kids are smoking it now and always have because the reefer-madness fools don’t want to regulate it.

They continued:
“The results in Colorado since marijuana was legalized there suggest supporters should have second thoughts. According to the anti-legalization group Smart Approaches to Marijuana, Colorado now leads the country in past-month marijuana use by youth, and states with legal marijuana are experiencing higher rates of traffic deaths from driving while high and more marijuana-related poisonings and hospitalizations. And the group reports that the black market for marijuana remains strong even in places where the drug can be purchased legally.”

projectsamTheir first mistake was trusting anything put out by “Smart Approaches to Marijuana”. Just because something says “smart” doesn’t make it so.

Anytime I go somewhere out of state and I see a place selling “authentic Philly cheesesteaks” I know it’s not going to be authentic. When the guru tells you he is wise, run from the guru. When someone tells you “I’m smart, I have a very good brain,” that’s when you know you are listening to a blathering pretentious fool.

Don’t ask Smart Approaches. Ask Governor Hickenlooper. Here’s what he told The Cannabis a few months back:
“We haven’t seen a spike in teenage use. We haven’t seen a giant increase in people’s consumption of marijuana. Seems like the people who were using marijuana before it was legal, still are. Seems like the people who weren’t using marijuana before it was legal, still aren’t.”

Hickenlooper continued:
“I don’t think there’s much question the old system was a disaster. We sent hundreds of thousands — millions — on a nationwide basis, millions of kids to jail for non-violent crimes. We inducted them into a high probability of a lifetime of crime, strictly by sending them to prison for something that was a non-violent crime. This new system, where we may not be completely sure of (whether) we’ve solved all the problems and that we’re going to be successful in this grand experiment, it does offer certain advantages to the status quo of the previous system. Now we have tax revenues.

Some people complain about the black market, “You’ve got this black market, this large black market. How do you address that?” Well, you know five years ago, it was a huge black market. Everything was black market, right? It was all illegal. Everything was being paid in cash and under the table. At least now we have some tax revenues that we can use to market to teenagers and make sure they understand that they could lose permanently a piece of their long-term memory.

Almost every brain doctor I’ve talked to feels there’s a very high probability — if your brain is still rapidly growing during your teenage years … there’s a high probability, it’s more than just risk, you’ll lose a sliver of your long-term memory every time you smoke this high-THC marijuana. Most kids don’t realize that. But we now have money we can advertise for that. We can provide more money to public safety to crack down on this gray market that turns into a black market. Each year we’re changing the regulatory structure to make it I think a little better.”

The Eagle editorial board seemed confused. They wrote:
“Furthermore, until we have a national consensus on how to deal with this issue, there is going to be a serious challenge. With the White House and Justice Department looking to take a tougher approach to drug enforcement, having conflicting federal and state laws concerning marijuana is bound to cause problems and considerable confusion.”

not_rocket_science_by_bj_o23-d5ddhgv.png.jpegThere doesn’t have to be confusion. The states are moving forward on legalization and the people have already reached a national consensus. All scientific national polls show that the American people favor legalization of cannabis. Now the elected representatives need to catch up to the people. What’s confusing about that?
The Reading Eagle seems unable to follow the madness of their position to its logical conclusion. They write:
“Just because we don’t favor legalization of recreational use does not mean we believe in filling our jails with people charged with marijuana offenses. People caught with small amounts of the drug should not face harsh punishment. When it comes to the issue of drug use and abuse, treatment-based solutions are far preferable to mass incarceration.”

Wow, how generous they think they are by saying those charged with possession should not get jail. They think anyone caught with cannabis needs TREATMENT. No. Absolutely not. Someone needs to sit down with them and explain to them that the earth is not flat, science has advanced in leaps and bounds since Medieval days and that we know so much more now than we did in the 1930’s. Cannabis consumers don’t need treatment they need FREEDOM!

Different-types-of-addiction Look, if someone really thinks they have a problem with smoking too much cannabis, or if they have a problem with any drug, then by all means get treatment. The vast majority of people who get caught with cannabis don’t need treatment. We can’t afford it anyway. The state has a 3 ½ billion dollar structural deficit. We arrest 20,000 people a year for possession of cannabis in Pa. Where are we going to get the money to treat 20,000 cannabis users a year? No, really, think about it.

Now, if you are REALLY concerned with funding rehabilitation of people addicted to hard drugs I’ll tell you how to do it – legalize, tax and regulate cannabis! You’ve got to be really thick-headed in 2017 to not be able to see the clear answer sparkling right in front of your eyes. We’ll make 500 million dollars in tax revenue every year in addition to the 30,000 jobs it would create. We could apply that money to the General Fund, to fund education, to fix roads, to fund drug rehab and legitimate law enforcement concerns.

Calling for rehab for cannabis consumers is social engineering at its worst. It’s another tax and spend feel good measure that doesn’t even feel good. It stinks. What are they going to tax next in order to throw all the pot smokers into rehab? It’s terrible to witness the intellectual meltdown of the desk-jockey pundits advocating such blatantly stupid policies that would require a huge tax to carry out. Sending 20,000 cannabis smokers a year to rehab is just as stupid as sending them to prison. It’s a burden we can’t afford. Don’t take our money for such a foolish endeavor. Tax the cannabis we buy instead and use some of it to help the heroin addicts.

untitledThe Reading Eagle editorial board concluded with:
“At this point we’re not particularly worried about Pennsylvania changing its marijuana law. As F&M pollster G. Terry Madonna said after the survey results came out, the conservative Republicans who control the state Legislature are not likely to go along with this idea. Nevertheless, we feel obligated to remind them that they should resist any temptation to govern based on poll results. Public opinion can be fleeting, and the job of lawmakers is to do the right thing, even if it isn’t necessarily popular.”

The Reading Eagle has sided with the prohibitionists. History will judge them harshly. It will be known that when change was breaking out all over America, they resisted. They advocated drastically failed policies that were not only wrong, cruel and immoral but blatantly stupid as well. The status quo simply cannot be maintained and change is so obviously coming that it can be seen by all – even those who oppose it.

legalize_it_by_poisongageThe people defending this destructive policy are fighting a rearguard action that is doomed to fail. They are like Hitler in the bunker, refusing to surrender as Berlin was being destroyed by the defenders of freedom all around him.
They urge our legislators to do what is right, whether it is popular or not. KCC also urges our legislators to do what is right. In this case it is something that is both right and popular and it is popular BECAUSE it is right – legalize cannabis in Pennsylvania!

Gloating that the Republicans in the Pa. legislature control things and will never go along with legalization is beneath their dignity. Eventually, even Republicans will favor legalizing, taxing and regulating cannabis. It will happen or they will no longer keep control.

We know that the General Assembly is not ready to do the right thing and legalize cannabis. However, we believe that there is strong bipartisan consensus that our laws are wrong and they must change. The agreement is with a form of decriminalization or downgrading of charges from a criminal misdemeanor to a summary offense.

Coincidentally, Berks County representative, Barry Jozwiak has introduced a bill to do just that. It is called HB928 and was just recently passed from the House Transportation Committee to the House Judiciary Committee chaird by Reperesentative Ron Marsico. Jozwiak introduced the bill at the behest of Berks County District Attorney John Adams.

84 years ago today, a Berks County representative got the bill signed into law. The next year he was soundly defeated in a landslide election by the people of Berks who rejected him as completely out of touch with their concerns. Today a Berks County representative is leading the way to downgrade penalties for personal possession of cannabis.

It all started here in Berks County and it’s coming to an end here in Berks County.

Les Stark
Executive Director, Keystone Cannabis Coalition

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Cannabis Decrim in Pennsylvania? Just Ask…NOW!

Posted by on May 18, 2017 in Blog

underpaidImagine you’ve been working at a job for a while and you start really getting mad because you realize you haven’t had a raise in a long time. Day after day it bothers you more and more. Your boss should give you a raise. He should just do it. Why isn’t he?

You start to complain to your buddy at work. He’s in the same boat. He hasn’t gotten a raise in a long time either. Now both of you are mad. A few months go by and every single day it’s eating at you. Underlying everything you do is an anger and resentment. Why isn’t the boss giving you the raise that you so clearly deserve?

After about six months of this finally you can’t take it anymore. You go into the boss’s office and tell him you think you deserve a raise. To your surprise, the boss gives you a raise! Turns out all you had to do was ask.

9251426_origYou see, our movement has been plagued with a certain sense of fatalism. For the last 50 years people have walked around carrying this tremendously heavy resentment that cannabis has been criminalized and wondering why the government doesn’t just legalize it. There was the sense that change was impossible. They walked around pissed but yet they didn’t ask. They did not stick up for themselves.

That’s what it comes down to right now in 2017. If you want cannabis to be decriminalized, if you want cannabis legalized, you MUST make your voice heard. You must contact your state senator and your state representative. The difference is, they are not your boss – YOU are. They are your representatives.

phbvfxk50xp0yotnzrndThere is a theme some people say about how we should not “beg our masters” for legalization. That’s true, but who are our masters? WE are the masters of ourselves. As citizens, we must engage in the political system or we have no hope. Just as the boss isn’t going to give you a raise if you don’t ask, the General Assembly of Pennsylvania is not going to pass either decriminalization or legalization legislation unless the citizens of Pennsylvania stand up for themselves and demand change.

18156352_1227090214080164_8842963523030944600_oLast month we had a big rally in the Harrisburg capitol building. About 400 people representing 10 cannabis reform groups from around Pennsylvania demanding the immediate decriminalization of cannabis and the full legalization of cannabis that includes the right to grow our own.

th1124O2J6So now, KCC and members of the reform community are contacting members of the House Judiciary Committee, chaired by Representative Ron Marsico, and asking them to please hold hearings on the two bills for downgrading cannabis possession cases currently in their committee. The bills are Ed Gainey’s HB195 and Rep. Barry Jozwiak’s HB928.

We are also contacting all members of the House to support either HB195 or HB928. We are asking for them to either cosponsor one of these bills or for their support once they are passed out of the committee.

On the senate side there is no companion bill for downgrading cannabis offenses but state senators should still be contacted to make them aware of the house bills and to possibly seek a sponsor for a senate version of the house bills.
We need everyone to do this. Everyone always asks, “What can I do to help decriminalize and legalize cannabis in Pennsylvania?” The thing that you must do now is to call your state representative’s office, your state senator and the chairman and members of the House Judiciary Committee and ask them to advance HB195 and HB928.

Take-A-Stand-e1397491401780There will be multiple rallies this summer in cities throughout Pennsylvania. You should go to those rallies. They are important for raising public awareness and making a strong statement. More importantly though, you have to make your voice heard to those who represent us.

If you are exceptionally knowledgeable and confident, schedule an appointment to talk to them directly and take along good information for them. If that doesn’t sound like you then call their office. Let them know why the cannabis laws must change.

th98EN45LMWe ask that you do this soon. The battle is not some time in the distant future. The battle is now. HB195 and HB928 are alive RIGHT NOW. If we all work hard we can pass one of these bills by the end of summer or by the end of THIS YEAR! Our goal is to get the downgraded penalties in effect by the time the medical cannabis dispensaries are in operation next year.

One we pass HB195 or HB928 we are in range of our ultimate goal – the full legalization of cannabis that includes the right to grow our own.

KCC will do our part. We will rally the troops and make the case to our lawmakers but we need YOU to do your part. It will take all of us working together in smart and effective ways. KCC relies on the generous donations of our supporters. If you would like to help fund this important work, please click the link and help us to stop the war.

Les Stark,
Executive Director, Keystone Cannabis Coalition

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When Will Pennsylvania Legalize Marijuana?

Posted by on Feb 21, 2017 in Blog

thPAZWDETGPerhaps the question I get more than any other is “When will Pennsylvania just legalize it?”

It’s actually an awesome question because years ago nobody asked that question. All we heard for years and years was the simple declarative statement “Pennsylvania will NEVER legalize cannabis!”

Nowadays, we don’t even consider it a matter of if anymore. Now it’s a matter of when. So I will attempt to answer that question because it is a good one, when will Pennsylvania legalize cannabis?

untitledWell, first of all you have to understand the political system of Pennsylvania. There is a process that all bills go through. A state senator or a state representative gets an idea to introduce a bill. The idea is submitted to the Legislative Reference Bureau where they write the bill. The legislator then circles a cosponsor memo asking for other legislators to put their names on the bill.

When the bill is officially introduced it is assigned to a committee. Many thousands of bills are assigned to committees and almost all of them die in those committees without ever receiving any consideration at all. Over 90% of all bills that are introduced never pass and the 10% or less that DO pass usually take about five years to pass.

The only way a bill makes it out of committee is either a few powerful and influential people want it or a popular movement is rising amongst the masses who want it. There must be lobbying. Someone has to actually fight for their bill.

marijuana_legal_gavel_620x350When bills are controversial there are usually hearings in the committee. Hearings are only heard when sufficient political agitation persuades them that they need to look at something.

For example, there is a bill for statewide decriminalization of cannabis called HB195. It was introduced by Rep. Ed Gainey. It has been introduced to the Pa. House Judiciary Committee. KCC is lobbying the Judiciary Committee to hold hearings on this bill.

There are two dozen members of the House Judiciary Committee and all of those members are the ones who we need to reach but out of all of them there is really only one man who holds all the power and is the one who we must reach. His name is Rep. Ron Marsico. He is the one who we must persuade to hold hearings on cannabis policy.

Representative Jordan Harris is also expected to reintroduce a bill for full legalization and his bill will most likely go to Marsico’s committee again and Representative Barry Jozwiak is expected to reintroduce a compromise bill for statewide decriminalization and it will also go to Marsico’s House Judiciary Committee. So his committee has three bills to consider.

In the state senate, Daylin Leach’s bill for full legalization is called SB213 and it currently sits in the Pa. Senate Law and Justice Committee. We need to persuade Senator Chuck McIlhinney to hold hearings. He is the chair of that committee and he holds all the power although we must reach every member of that committee.

Pennsylvania works in two year legislative sessions. Anything introduced in that two year time period whether it is in month one or month 23 has to be passed within that two year session or it dies and has to start all over again no matter how much progress it’s made. Most of the last session of 2015/2016 was taken up passing medical cannabis and industrial hemp legislation. That was about all the cannabis the legislature could handle. The medical cannabis bill passed overwhelmingly and the industrial hemp bill passed 233- 0 in the senate and the house. This gives us great hope that the reefer madness resistance is eroding.

The new two year session started in January of 2017 and it will end in December of 2018. We are in month two so that means that we have 22 months to pass legislation or see it die and be forced to start all over again.

In our work with KCC we have made relationships with dozens of state senators and representatives. We are friends with the Governor and many members of his administration. We played a role in passing the medical cannabis legislation and we are the ones who passed the hemp legislation with our lobbying efforts. Because of this involvement we have a very good feel for where the General Assembly is right now and unfortunately I have to report that there is about a zero percent chance that we will pass full legalization in this two year session.

thGW8S4S3IDoes that mean that we just give up? Of course not. What that means is that we start building the solid case and foundation for legalization at the same time we go for where there is consensus, our next achievable victory – statewide decriminalization of cannabis.

We have been trying to schedule a meeting with House Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. Ron Marsico and we have met with staff from Senate Law and Justice Chairman Chuck McIlhinney about holding hearings on marijuana policy but have so far been ignored or politely listened to. That is why our rally in the rotunda of the state capitol building on Wednesday, April 19 is so important. We need to get hundreds of people there to demand action on cannabis reform and let them know that we are serious and we mean business.

So let’s say that our rally really rocks the house on April 19 and Chairman Marsico goes, “Who, I’d better schedule some hearings quick!” Then what happens?

depositphotos_21384081-Marijuana-educateThe Judiciary Committee will then hold at least one and who knows, maybe two or three hearings. At worst, he may stack the hearings with reefer madness proponents. At best, it will be a balanced hearing with half of the people supporting the bill and half of them spouting off nonsense and propaganda. That’s why every member of the committee must be educated because they will have to vote by majority to move the bill out of committee.

The hearing phase of the bill could last six months or more before finally the committee will vote. If the majority of that committee votes Yes then the bill will be sent to the House for a full vote on the floor. The Majority Leader is David Reed and he schedules all floor votes. The Speaker of the House is fierce cannabis reform opponent Rep. Mike Turzai. Reed does not have to schedule a floor vote if he doesn’t want to. He could just sit on the bill or he could wait months with it.

Let’s suppose it passes in the House. Reed has scheduled a vote and hooray, much to our surprised approval HB195 has passed! Now Gainey’s or Jozwiak’s or Harris’s bill goes to the state senate where it is assigned to….another committee, the Senate Law and Justice Committee.

Now the Senate Law and Justice Committee has to pass it but before they do, if they have not already held hearings on cannabis reform policy then they may want to hold a hearing or two and that could take several months. Then if they pass it out of committee it has to go to the floor for a full vote in the senate. Then, if it passes it finally goes to Governor Wolf for his signature.

I am simplifying things a little bit but that is the basic path a bill takes to become law. You can see that under likely circumstances it may take us a year or more to even pass a bill for statewide decriminalization. It will be either our action or inaction that either speeds up or delays this process. A strong showing in Harrisburg on April 19 will give our issue a BIG boost and if we keep the pressure up I honestly believe that we can win by the end of THIS YEAR!

politicsIn Pennsylvania we cannot get legalization on the ballot. We have to go through the legislature. Our political process can be frustrating, discouraging and painfully slow. Although I have high hopes that we can decriminalize cannabis this year I also know the possibility that it will take us until next year but I am confident that within this two year legislative session we WILL pass decriminalization legislation.

Okay, so I gave you a reasonable timeframe for passing decriminalization but when will Pennsylvania fully legalize cannabis?

Less+Talk,+more+actionA lot of it depends on what WE do here in Pennsylvania. We must continue to grow this movement, to educate, to persuade, to rally and demand change. We are already doing that. We have to get more and more people active and involved. We have to get huge enough that they MUST enact reforms because the political pressure is too great and public opinion overwhelmingly in favor.
Just as important to consider is how outside influences will help determine what happens here in the Keystone State. What happens in Pennsylvania does not occur in a vacuum. Currently eight states have fully legalized cannabis – California, Colorado, Washington, Oregon, Alaska, Nevada, Maine and Massachusetts, plus Washington D.C.

All of those states policies influence us a little bit but the most profound of these are Maine and Massachusetts. It is those two states that are ultimately going to be seen as the key dominoes to fall in securing legalization here.
Because of the victories in Maine and Massachusetts it is almost a sure thing that within 1-3 years all of New England will go legal. Rhode Island, Connecticut, New Hampshire and Vermont have all come close to passing legalization bill in years past and will almost certainly succeed in their efforts to legalize very soon.

Also, in New Jersey there is only ONE impediment to passing full legalization legislation – Governor Chris Christie. Guess what, in 11 months he will be gone! It is predicted that by the end of 2018 cannabis will be completely legal in New Jersey! (If activists do their part.)

Delaware is also looking very promising. They have already passed medical cannabis legislation and statewide decriminalization. It’s a small state with a smaller legislature which makes change a little bit easier. How long will it take Delaware to legalize it? Between 1-3 years.

Another important state is Maryland. They are working two different paths to legalization. One path is a bill working its way through the legislature. The other path may lead to a ballot measure in the elections of November, 2018. So we may be less than two years away from full legalization in Maryland.

So in other words, by 2020 at the latest Pennsylvania will be staring legalization in the face from Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Jersey, Delaware and Maryland plus more states that will legalize it. By then there will be approximately 16 or more legal states. We will be two years already into our experience with decriminalization, thousands of acres of hemp will be growing in our fields and 150 medical cannabis dispensaries and dozens of grow ops in full operation and already a couple years into it. At that time, if it has not occurred already, Pennsylvania will be ready to fully legalize cannabis.

I am predicting that the shortest time to legalize would be three years. That’s three years though if everything goes right and the people keep demanding it. The general timeframe though I am predicting for full legalization in Pa. is 3-5 years.

Timages (4)his is why we must strongly demand immediate decriminalization of cannabis now. Decriminalization is not perfect. It is an imperfect, temporary and partial truce in the war while Pennsylvania figures out the best way to legalize it. We must also demand that Pennsylvania starts the conversation on full legalization right now.

KCC has already been making the case for full legalization for years and we will never stop until we have ended this cruel, barbaric, archaic and inhumane war against us forever and buried the opposition into permanent oblivion. In addition to going with the decriminalization consensus on April 19 we will also state in no uncertain terms that the ultimate answer is full legalization that allows for home grows and we will push that message as well.

There is one wild card that could speed up the process and that is if the masses in Pennsylvania suddenly awoke and stood up and demand their rights. The stronger presence we have at the Pennsylvania Marijuana Decriminalization Rally in Harrisburg on April 19 the more clout we will have.

DecrimRally

Hope to see every one of you there.

Les Stark
Executive Director, Keystone Cannabis Coalition

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PA Marijuana Decriminalization Drive Begins With Harrisburg Rally on 4/19

Posted by on Feb 20, 2017 in Blog

Pennsylvania Marijuana Decriminalization Drive Begins With Harrisburg Rally on 4/19

DecrimRally

The last two year legislative session saw the Pennsylvania General Assembly occupied with considering and passing industrial hemp and medical cannabis legislation. They had a lot on their plate and passing those two pieces of legislation was considered near historic and near miraculous.

Republicans and Democrats came together in a bipartisan manner to pass these landmark bills that will ultimately prove good for the people of Pennsylvania.

Now the Pa. Legislature is being asked to come together once again for the good of the people and remove the threat of jail for simple possession of cannabis.

The current max penalty on the books for possession of up to an ounce of cannabis is 30 days in jail and a $500 fine. Opponents of reform claim that nobody gets the max penalty anymore and that people do not go to jail for “pot”. Yet that is the penalty on the books – you could get 30 days in jail in the state of Pennsylvania for having a joint! Well, unless you live in Harrisburg or State College, or Pittsburgh or Philadelphia, or maybe soon in Reading, West York and Wilkes Barre where they have all enacted cannabis decriminalization ordinances or are currently considering them.

Legislation has been introduced by Rep. Ed Gainey that removes the threat of jail, changes possession of up to 30 grams of cannabis from a criminal misdemeanor to a summary offense, removes the threat of losing one’s driver’s license and fixes a maximum penalty of $100. The bill is called HB195 and it is supported by all cannabis reform organizations in the state.

In addition to Rep. Gainey’s bill in the Pa. House of Representatives, State Senator Daylin Leach has introduced a bill for full legalization of cannabis in the Pa. Senate and that bill is called SB213.

Rep. Jordan Harris is expected to reintroduce a bill for full legalization in the Pa. House and another decriminalization bill is expected to be introduced by Rep. Barry Jozwiak. The cannabis reform community supports Gainey’s bill over Jozwiak’s but if his bill were to pass it would still be a positive step in the right direction.

On April 19 all Pennsylvania cannabis reform groups will come together in unity to demand immediate decriminalization of cannabis and for further discussion on the merits of the full legalization of cannabis.

Uniting for Change

Partners

Participating groups are Keystone Cannabis Coalition, Pittsburgh NORML, Philly NORML, Pennsylvania Cannabis Association, Pittsburgh NORML Women’s Alliance, Philly NORML, Northeastern Pennsylvania Cannabis Association, Lancaster NORML, Pennsylvania Veterans for Medical Marijuana and Pa. for Safe Access.

thThe rally will be held at 11:30 in the Main Rotunda of the State Capitol building in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. It is free and the public is invited to attend.

This will be the BIG opening announcement of the campaign to reform the archaic laws of Pennsylvania regarding cannabis. We will be joined by Rep. Ed Gainey, Rep. Mark Rozzi and many prominent members of the community and top activists. There will be a surprise celebrity guest and we are waiting confirmation on several other legislators.

Several hundred people are expected to attend and the word is going out calling for ONE THOUSAND PEOPLE to come to Harrisburg and demand our rights and some common sense for once.

Keystone Cannabis Coalition is proud to be a part of this historic event and this great movement. We are especially thrilled to work together in unison with all the other great reform organizations in the state. We know that together we are stronger. We are like individual strands of hemp that when wound together form an unbreakable cord.

Take-A-Stand-e1397491401780We hope to see you there in Harrisburg on 4/19. You may have gone your whole life wishing that you could make a difference. Now is your chance. Come stand with us as we take a stand for freedom and common sense.

Les Stark,
Executive Director, Keystone Cannabis Coalition

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KCC 2016 Year in Review – Pa Cannabis Reform

Posted by on Dec 31, 2016 in Blog

2016-year-in-review-One year ago I wrote “2015 was an epic, monumental year in the Pennsylvania cannabis reform movement and Keystone Cannabis Coalition was right in the middle of it once again as in years past”. The blog post is a good read to see a review of the events that led us to the victories of this year. You can read it here.

A year later I think it is safe to say that 2016 was even more epic, even more monumental and once again Keystone Cannabis Coalition was right there in the middle of it.

12661755_10206366698111158_7293360441956170487_nIn January we dove head first into the new year. Representing the Pennsylvania Hemp Industry Council we spent nine days at the Pennsylvania State Farm Show in Harrisburg along with founding PaHIC president Geoff Whaling and other board members and volunteers.

We spent one day setting up the stand and then worked for 8 days straight from morning until night talking to thousands of farmers, legislators, members of the media and general public about the hemp legislation we were trying to pass. It was the debut event for PaHIC, an organization entirely for the promotion of a thriving hemp industry in the state. This allows us to keep the issue of hemp away from the more controversial issue of cannabis. At the end of our nine day adventure we were exhausted but excited. Not only was our hemp bill moving but so was the medical cannabis bill.

12717547_1140771522599538_6070316027420738909_nOn February 8 we participated in a sit-in organized by Campaign for Compassion. All of us were risking arrest. About a hundred of us plopped down on the floor. We sat in silence for nine minutes, a minute for every month that we had been waiting since the state senate first voted in favor of medical cannabis. Then we sat for another 9 minutes while individual patients told their stories of suffering and how cannabis could help them.

For many people there, this was the most radical thing they had ever done. Simple patients, frustrated with the legislative process that threatened to hold up their medicine forever. We were pleasantly surprised when Governor Tom Wolf came to join us! Our former governor Tom Corbett would have had us arrested but Wolf embraced us and our cause. It was profoundly moving.

Three days after the sit-in on February 11, I made my way to the Harrisburg City Council meeting where they were discussing their new cannabis decriminalization efforts. I gave a five minute speech and submitted my written comments. KCC supported the ordinance they were considering in principle, however we argued that their fines should be lowered and we opposed the third strike provision. You can read my speech here.

In late February Erica and I went to the Landis Valley Farm Museum to film a media segment for WFMZ who gave us excellent coverage regarding our hemp bill.

On February 23, KCC teamed up with Deb Guy and Lancaster NORML to speak to Lancaster City Council and ask them to consider a decriminalization ordinance. This was a continuation of our efforts with council but so far we have not seen results. We intend to resume our important work in Lancaster and if we cannot get an ordinance passed we will push for a Resolution of Support for Statewide Decriminalization. You can read my speech here.

Four days later on February 27, I gave a two hour lecture on the history and future of the hemp industry in Pennsylvania at the Landis Valley Farm Museum. It was a part of a winter workshop organized by the Back Yard Fruit Growers of Pa.

On March 3, Erica and I teamed up with Deb Guy of Lancaster NORML and met with the Lancaster City Police Chief Sadler. Our meeting went well. He gave us about 1 ½ hours and we had a wide ranging discussion concerning cannabis decriminalization, the consequences of arrests and the support of the public for reform. Sadler was not opposed to the idea and promised to remain publicly neutral. We got good coverage in the press concerning the meeting. You can read my report here.

On March 10 it was back to Harrisburg to speak at Harrisburg City Council’s public hearing on their decriminalization. I again voiced the support of KCC to the principles of what they were trying to do and voiced some dissent while encouraging them to go further. You can read my speech here.

1929772_870024963120026_5226025248960109608_nIn mid-March Erica and I spent three days in a row in the capitol. On the Monday of March 14 we attended the press conference organized by Christy Billet and her group Pa. for Safe Access. The next day medical cannabis activists were invited to the Governor’s office for a meeting with Governor Wolf again. Erica and I posed for our fourth picture with Wolf.

In the evening we watched over the House floor from the gallery as the Pa. House of Representatives debated the medical cannabis bill. On Wednesday, March 16 we got to witness history on two separate occasions. In the afternoon we watched our hemp bill, SB50 pass the state senate by a 49-0 vote! It was an overwhelming and exciting feeling but it wasn’t over yet. In the evening we watched the House of Representatives vote 149-43 in favor of medical cannabis! It was a very exciting time. I chronicled the experience with more flavor in this blog post.

12049699_566207766879642_5858779507034704511_nThe next week we were back at work on our industrial hemp bill. Under the banner of Pennsylvania Hemp Industry Council on March 21st we organized a hemp lobby day. Erica and I, PaHIC president Geoff Whaling, other members of the board and volunteers along with members of the Pennsylvania Farmers Union set up an impressive educational display in the lobby of the capitol and we each broke up in small teams and lobbied members of the Pa. House of Representatives.

On March 22, Erica and I along with Susan Love met with the Pa. House Majority Leader David Reed to ask him to bring the hemp bill to the floor for a vote. After the meeting with Reed we met with Representative Russ Diamond and then went for a meeting with members of the Pa. Department of Agriculture.

12920279_573538462813239_4844282990669246036_nOn March 31 we set up a stand for the Pennsylvania Hemp Industry Council at the York Agricultural Banquet. This was our second year with a hemp stand at the event but our first year representing PaHIC.

Next week it was back in the capitol in Harrisburg. In our meeting with Majority Leader Reed we had been assured that he would bring up the House hemp bill introduced by Rep. Russ Diamond for a vote on April 4th.

12974473_574810372686048_5931607661954334838_nSo we went to Harrisburg for three days in a row until finally on Wednesday, April 6th we watched from the gallery overlooking the floor of the House of Representatives while they passed HB967 by a 187-0 vote!
We were amazed that even vigorous foes of medical cannabis voted for our hemp bill, including Matt Baker and Speaker of the House Mike Turzai. Every single Democrat and every single Republican voted Yes for hemp! It was a major victory.

DeptOfAgOn April 13th, representing Pennsylvania Hemp Industry Council, we again met with the high ranking leaders and members of the Pa. Department of Agriculture to discuss the implementation of the hemp program, once it is passed. The conversation lasted at least 1 ½ hours and much was discussed in this positive meeting.
Earlier in the morning Erica and I participated in the press conference organized by Campaign for Compassion. I gave a five minute speech urging the House to finally vote on the medical cannabis legislation. As soon as our meeting with the department of ag was over we made a beeline back to the capitol just in time to see the Pa. House of representatives finally pass medical cannabis legislation! It was a fantastic day!

11248346_894031260719396_1573653828272338086_nFour days later was the day we had all been waiting for, the day that Governor Wolf would finally sign the medical cannabis legislation into law! The date was set for Sunday, April 17 and the day was beautiful. Hundreds of people gathered for the signing. In fact, far more people showed up for the signing than ever came to the rallies and hearings. The public showed that this was indeed very popular and the feeling was ecstatic and thrilling. Moments like this come once in a lifetime. Erica and I posed with Governor Wolf shortly after the signing.

13051521_10209096978206823_862363711162382626_nOn April 18th Governor Wolf started a tour of key state reps and state senators offices to thank them for their bipartisan work on the medical cannabis legislation. Erica and I joined with members of the Campaign for Compassion for a press conference at the office of Sen. Mike Folmer in Lebanon. Before the event we got to have a nice conversation with Governor Wolf. I told him all about hemp again, of course.

13043274_10153373332785672_3657298268486486054_nThe next day, on April 19 Erica and I went to State Senator Daylin Leach’s office in Montgomery County. There before the press conference we again had a good conversation with the governor. Campaign for Compassion was well represented at the meeting and it received great press, as did the press conference the day before.

On May 2nd, Erica and I made the three hour journey to Penn State. We met up with our friends Adam A. Thompson and Josh Leidecker and the four of us met with members of the Pa. Department of Agriculture and staff from Penn State, plus a professor from the UK who breeds hemp to discuss the possibility of getting a test plot of hemp in the ground this year. The talk went well.

That same night, the borough of State College was talking about their decriminalization ordinance. Since we were in the area we made sure to weigh in. I was quoted in this article. State College ultimately passed their decriminalization ordinance on August 2 – the 79th anniversary of federal “marihuana” prohibition. KCC was not successful in getting them to compromise with a better ordinance but it is still a step in the right direction.

13124826_1200646229954483_1632109534631880941_nOn May 8th I went to Philadelphia for the march organized by Philly NORML. We marched past city hall and then went to a local park where I got to give a speech and lead the crowd in singing Happy Birthday to Chris Goldstein. At the event Representative Jordan Harris announced the introduction of his bill to fully legalize cannabis in Pa.

On May 19 Harrisburg City Council held a discussion on the decrim proposal and once again I and other members of KCC attended and spoke. The conversation lasted for nearly two hours. It was a fascinating discussion as the decriminalization ordinance was moved along.

On May 26, Erica and I drove to Wilkes Barre for a meeting of the Luzerne County Council. They were considering a county-wide ordinance decriminalizing cannabis. Our friend Kenny Small was there and Carl Romanelli, Jeff Zick and I spoke in favor of passing the ordinance. Council agreed with decriminalization but after consulting with their legal team decided they did not have the authority to go ahead. I disagreed with them and was quoted in this article.

13339671_10208199565100090_4578453532781027735_nOn June 6th we organized an event in the Capitol to celebrate Hemp History Week under the guise of the Pennsylvania Hemp Industry Council. In addition to the speeches of Erica and I we were also joined by Senator Judy Schwank, Senator Mike Folmer, Rep. Russ Diamond, PaHIC board members Riley Cote and Adam Thompson, Hannah Smith-Brubaker of the Pa. Department of Agriculture and Michael Kovach of the Pa. Farmers Union. We also read a statement by Governor Wolf and prepared remarks by Rep. Marty Flynn. The event also pushed for the final passage of the hemp bill.

13406805_10154709088043797_4398311356281688867_nA week later, on June 14 we were back at the capitol. Andy Hoover of the Pennsylvania branch of the ACLU alerted Chris Goldstein that a dangerous version of decriminalization was suddenly being considered in the House Judiciary Committee. The bill was being revived after laying dormant for a year. We scrambled and got our members to flood the members of the committee with calls and emails opposing the bill. Chris Goldstein organized a press conference. We attended and I spoke forcefully against the bill and in favor of Ed Gainey’s Bill, HB2076. We were joined by other heroes such as Randall Robertson and Chuck Homan. To make a long story short, our efforts were a success and we killed the bill! You can read more about it in my blog post from June.

We certainly were busy but there was no time to rest. Two days later Erica and I loaded up the Jeep and drove to New York City and set up an outstanding booth for the Pennsylvania Hemp Industry Council at the Cannabis World Congress and Business Expo at the Javitz Center in Manhattan. We were up there June 16-19th.

The New York event was amazing. To see the industry so well represented on the east coast was refreshing. Industry innovators, entrepreneurs and leaders from all over the country converged into an amazing, mind blowing event, especially for a region still living under reefer madness and the force of law. After three days in New York we came back to Pa. with a new perspective.

In late June we got word that Harrisburg City Council was going to vote on the decriminalization bill. The efforts of KCC really made a difference and we helped persuade them to compromise and craft a better bill. You can read about it in my blog here.

On July 5th I traveled to Harrisburg and watched joyfully as Harrisburg City Council unanimously passed their decriminalization ordinance. The policy has been in effect for nearly a half year and the sky has still not fallen in Harrisburg!

On July 8 Erica and I attended the Regulatory Palooza organized by State Senator Daylin Leach. The event was attended by hundreds of people, most of them potential investors and stakeholders in the new emerging medical cannabis industry. There were many panels and input and feedback was taken to provide guidance to the Pa. Department of Health in helping to create and implement their new program.

Two days later, on July 10, 2016 we scored our most major victory yet, the industrial hemp bill that we had worked so hard on passed its final victory by a vote in the Pa. House of Representatives 187 to ZERO! We were ecstatic. Ten days later, Governor Wolf signed the bill into law. You can read about it in my blog here.

13620369_10207529039848975_345355735122146670_nOn July 12th we had a great event right here in our hometown of Reading.  Music icon Melissa Etheridge came to personally thank the advocates who helped pass medical cannabis and industrial hemp legislation in the state. Also announced at the event was the creation of AgriNext, Pennsylvania Harvest and Keystone Green, business that will help build these new emerging industries.

13770278_954969884625533_6867634126966517493_nOn July 23rd Erica and I represented KCC once again at the fifth annual Hemp Heals Festival organized by Riley Cote of the Hemp Heals Foundation. We set up a stand along with Jesse Nova of the Northeastern Pennsylvania Cannabis Network. I got to make a speech from the stage again to the largest crowd I’ve ever spoken to. There were at least 6,000 people and I helped rile them up. It was great fun!

On July 28 Erica and I started our morning with what was billed as a “stakeholder’s meeting” with the Pa. Department of Agriculture as the sought input to create and implement rules and procedures for overseeing the hemp program. The meeting lasted for several hours. It was attended by about two dozen people and the department received great advise and council from PaHIC and others in attendance.

13879459_10208596235216595_8477068116049780105_nWhen the meeting was over I caught a ride with Gabriel Chorno down to Philadelphia for the Democratic National Convention. N.a Poe organized a march and rally that day and we went down and marched in the rain while meanwhile in a historic move actually wrote cannabis reform into the platform of the Democratic Party. I spoke and I smoked cannabis with everybody else but the Philly Cops had no problems with us and considered it free speech.

From August 15-19 Erica and I worked a stand representing the Pennsylvania Hemp Industry Council at Ag Progress Days in Penn State. It was bit exhausting but well worth it. We had many fascinating conversations with all sorts of people doing interesting and innovative things in agriculture and are fascinated with the idea of working with hemp and seeing how it can fit in with what they are doing.

On August 24th, Erica and I headed down to Philadelphia for a speech I gave for the 252nd annual meeting of the American Chemical Society about the history of cannabis and hemp in Pa. and about the work that KCC is doing. I was invited by Dr. Jahan Marcu who had helped organize the event. (The day just happened to be on Erica’s birthday but she still went)

In September KCC teamed up with MPP and surveyed all incumbents and challengers with regard to their positions on cannabis reform. With an eye to the elections we published the voting guide to our members.

Also in September we did some of our most important work. On September 21 Brianne Archer, Erica and I sat down with Reading Mayor Wally Scott. We had a half hour conversation where we explained to him our intention of introducing a decriminalization ordinance and the reasons to support the effort.

We had already been talking to members of Reading City Council for two years but after our conversation with the mayor councilwoman Donna Reed and councilman Chris Daubert asked to see the ordinance we intended to pass. Within days Erica submitted a fantastic ordinance and next thing it’s all over the news.

We caused quite a commotion in Reading. There were numerous media pieces that week and on September 26 Erica, Brianne and I went to address Reading City Council along with several other supporters. No one spoke in opposition and the crowd was on our side. The mayor asked them to drop the ordinance but city council voted 4-3 to keep it on the agenda! Decrim is still alive in Reading.

We are having a town hall on decriminalization in Reading on January 19 with Rep. Mark Rozzi.

On October 1st KCC teamed up once again with our good friend Jesse Nova of the Northeastern Pennsylvania Cannabis Network and Jeff Zick for our third annual rally in Wilkes Barre. The event was not as well attended as we would like but it was a major success in getting the word out through four different media organizations that showed up and gave us excellent coverage.

14724408_1752435788354215_7835779738946484143_nOctober 19, that was the day of the year though! Although Governor Wolf had already officially signed the hemp bill three months earlier, it was decided that he would hold a special signing ceremony where the hemp bill would be printed on hemp paper and signed with hemp pen. It was meant to be a photo-op for the governor, senators and representatives who made it happen and the advocates who advanced the bill.

14657325_657523411081410_9119046663631990799_nUnbeknownst to Erica, I made special plans and they unfolded perfectly. Governor Wolf talked to me briefly beforehand and gave me the go-ahead, indicating that he had been informed of my plan. He gave me the signal to speak and I took out a prepared speech, which completely surprised Erica because we had not discussed me speaking at the event.

14670700_10207942595105915_3113682523248699670_nAfter reading a five minute speech where I detailed the history of hemp with marriage ceremonies, I asked Erica to come forward. Then I asked her to marry me in a Pennsylvania hemp field and she said YES! I placed a hemp ring on her finger to the applause of the governor, State Senators Schwank and Fomer, Rep. Russ Diamond, Marty Flynn and members of the Dept. of Agriculture. It was an awesome moment!

On November 3 we went to Philadelphia where Erica conducted a workshop on the newly passed hemp legislation. The event was organized by Stephanie Thomas for her chapter of Women Grow. It was well attended and after Erica’s power point presentation we had many fascinating and productive conversations.

To be honest, this is not even a complete list of what we did in 2016. In addition to everything mentioned we attended other meetings and did a heck of a lot of work behind the scenes. Especially Erica as she works towards actually building a hemp industry in Pennsylvania. Both of us appeared in numerous television, radio and print media pieces over the year, including our most recent podcast last week with Skip Shuda of Green Rush Advisors. I’ve also been of Lefty Grime’s show a few times this year. I’ll probably remember more of what we did after this is published.

In addition to all of this activity we have continued to keep everyone informed and up to the minute on where we stand and everything that goes on with regard to cannabis and hemp reform in the state of Pennsylvania. I invite everyone to read the blogs in our archives on the KCC website and join our Facebook discussion page.  Also stay tuned to our main Facebook page.

So, all in all 2016 was a fantastic year for Keystone Cannabis Coalition and cannabis and hemp reform in the state of Pennsylvania! Nothing happens in a vacuum though. We depend on all of YOU. We asked for donations and it was your funds that have made all that we have done and achieved possible. So THANK YOU ALL!

thFQLN8RNN2017 is going to be the year that we make a major effort to pass statewide decriminalization of cannabis in Pennsylvania. If we are going to be as successful as we have been in past battles then we need to raise funds for this year’s effort. I hope all of you who have supported us in the past can continue to do so by making a generous donation towards our efforts.

Thank you KCC, Happy Holidays and a Happy NEW YEAR!

Les Stark
Executive Director, Keystone Cannabis Coalition

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