Gov. Tom Wolf says he's a realist on issue of recreational marijuana

Associated Press

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) -- Gov. Tom Wolf called himself a "realist" about the full legalization of marijuana, pointing out Thursday that it could soon come to two states bordering Pennsylvania and suggesting that it would be wiser to take a harder look at it than ignore it.

Wolf, a Democrat, this week changed his tone on the subject as legalizing the sale of recreational marijuana gathers popularity and momentum.

Previously, Wolf had said he would want to study the experience of states where it is legal before deciding whether to support it. However, he has never suggested that the time is right for his administration to look into it, until now.

On Wednesday, Wolf opened the door while answering questions from the public on Twitter, saying "it is time for Pennsylvania to take a serious and honest look at recreational marijuana." He also said more states are "successfully implementing marijuana legalization," and Pennsylvania should learn from their efforts.

Asked about it Thursday, Wolf cited movement in New York and New Jersey toward legalizing the sale of marijuana for recreational purposes, and said Pennsylvania should take notice.

"We can't just duck our heads in to the sand and say things aren't happening," Wolf told reporters at an unrelated event in the Capitol. "New York, New Jersey, they are neighboring states, they are making a decision. I want to follow them and see what they do."

He isn't, however, indicating that he plans to make legalizing marijuana a priority of his second-term, create a process to formally study it or call on lawmakers to act.

"I'm going to be a realist, and I'm recognizing that things have changed in the environment that I work in," Wolf said.

A 2017 poll by Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster found that 59 percent of those Pennsylvanians surveyed supported the legalization of marijuana use. That was up from just 22 percent in a 2006 Franklin and Marshall College poll.

Even so, such a change would require action by Pennsylvania's Republican-controlled Legislature, and leaders there have never sought to start a discussion about it. In a statement, Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman, R-Centre, called Wolf's new position "reckless and irresponsible."

Corman called marijuana a "gateway drug" that is opposed by the medical and law enforcement communities, and said it lacks credible research on the societal costs.

"As long as I am leader, I will do everything in my power to prevent legalization of recreational marijuana," Corman said.

In New Jersey, Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy is a vocal proponent of legalizing marijuana and lawmakers are advancing a legalization measure. In New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Monday that he wants lawmakers to approve a legalization measure in 2019.

With his second term set to start in January, Wolf will be joined by a lieutenant governor, John Fetterman, who has long supported the full legalization of marijuana.

Wolf signed Pennsylvania's medical marijuana law in 2016, passed with strong bipartisan support from lawmakers, including Corman, and he has overseen the program's rollout, beginning with the first sale last February.

Colorado and Washington first approved the sale of recreational marijuana in 2012. Now, 10 states and the District of Columbia have approved recreational marijuana, including Michigan and Vermont this year, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.