HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) - Pennsylvania needs to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana possession, Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf said Monday, but he remains guarded about the kind of recreational legalization that is in place in several western states.
While some municipalities have stopped arresting people for possessing small amounts and prosecutors have been downgrading it as a crime, the state should act because too many people are still going to prison for marijuana possession, Wolf said.
"I think we need to do that in a more systematic fashion," Wolf told WITF-FM's Smart Talk program. "There are too many people who are going to prison because of the use of very modest amounts or carry modest amounts of marijuana, and that is clogging up our prisons, it's destroying families and it's hurting our economy, so I think decriminalization is the first step."
Wolf ran for governor in 2014 endorsing the decriminalization of small amounts of marijuana.
However, he stopped short of endorsing the kind of full legalization of recreational use that has taken place for adults 21 and over in Colorado, Washington, Oregon and Alaska.
"I'm not sure why we need to go beyond (decriminalization), and I think we can watch what happens in Colorado and Washington and Oregon and see what their experience is," Wolf said. "I'm not sure it's been uniformly great. I ran on decriminalization, not legalization."
The Republican-controlled Legislature has made no move to consider decriminalization of marijuana.
Bills that would decriminalize certain marijuana possession offenses for adults have seen no movement in either the House or Senate Judiciary committees, and the Legislature did not include a decriminalization provision when it approved legislation to legalize a medical marijuana program in Pennsylvania.
In April, Wolf signed the medical marijuana bill. The Department of Health said it will take until early 2018 to make medical marijuana available to eligible patients.
According to the marijuana advocacy group NORML, 20 states and Washington, D.C., have decriminalized certain marijuana possession offenses, making it either a summary offense, like a minor traffic violation, or a misdemeanor that carries no threat of jail time.