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.


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 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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