About 40 people from the crowd of 150 at the Bucks County Community College’s Newtown campus told Lt. Gov. John Fetterman they would favor legalizing recreational marijuana.
Legalizing recreational marijuana appears to be favored by area residents if Wednesday night’s visit from Lt. Gov. John Fetterman in Newtown Township is any indication.
A crowd of about 150 people came to the Zlock Performing Arts Center at 275 Swamp Road as part of Fetterman’s statewide listening tour for legalized cannabis use.
Only about 40 people were able to speak during the meeting, but a show of hands at the end of the night had only about 15 people opposing legalizing the federally prohibited drug.
Fetterman was joined by state Sens. Steven Santarsiero, D-10, and Maria Collett, D-12, as well as Reps. Perry Warren, D-31; Wendy Ullman, D-143; and Tina Davis, D-141.
There was no shortage of opinions for or against the idea as local elected officials, registered nurses, police officers and people in recovery from addiction spoke out for and against recreational marijuana use.
“It’s a shame it’s taken this long in Pennsylvania to get to a place where we’re ready to have this conversation,” said Alex Overton, a registered medical marijuana patient.
Overton was the first person to comment, and several of the issues he raised in support of recreational marijuana would set the tone for many of the supporting comments that followed.
For Overton, marijuana isn’t a step toward harder, more addictive drugs, but a way to get away from them. He said he is one of many Pennsylvania medical marijuana patients using cannabis to manage his methadone treatment.
Another man, who didn’t give his name, said he too was an addict in recovery and credited medical marijuana as a major aid in his now decade-long sobriety.
He identified himself as a paramedic who aided emergency workers in New York City during the 9/11 attacks, which led to post-traumatic stress disorder and other similar conditions afterwards.
The crowd was far from unanimous in its support of possible legalization efforts, and opinions from both sides included a varied assortment of backgrounds and experiences.
John Ruby, a Bucks County resident who also identified as a recovering addict, was one of the first to speak out against legalizing marijuana.
While Ruby does support medical cannabis, the idea of legalizing recreational use was a step too far in a country “at war with drugs,” referencing the ongoing opioid epidemic.
At least two women who said they were registered nurses objected to comments made by legalization supporters suggesting marijuana had no negative health effects.
Bensalem police Chief Fred Harran warned legalizing marijuana use would almost certainly make the roads more dangerous with impaired drivers, while Warrington Supervisor Fred Gaines said he supported decriminalizing marijuana to free up police resources.
“It’s freaking 2019,” frustrated Newtown Township resident Stephen Cickay said.
“Prohibition failed for alcohol, and prohibition, right now, is failing for pot,” Cickay said.
Cickay was also one of several who called any action to legalize marijuana a “social justice” issue as well — referencing the disproportionate number of arrests of minorities.
Fetterman’s tour across the state started in February, and wraps up with a visit to Cameron County on Thursday and four events in Philadelphia this weekend. He said Wednesday the point of the tour was not to promote any specific legislation, but to get the overall opinion of residents on the issue.
“This is an important public topic that people feel very passionately about. Every viewpoint must be respected,” Fetterman said before taking comments.
Santarsiero said at the end of the meeting he does not support legalizing marijuana at the moment, echoing some of Wednesday’s comments to wait and see the effects of legalization in other states.
“I think we need to have more time to see how it plays out in the states that have done this to get a better sense of whether it is in fact the right step for Pennsylvania,” Santarsiero said. He voted in favor of the state’s Medical Marijuana Act in 2015 when he was a member of the state House.
Ullman said there were still many unknown elements to commit either way on legalization.
“This is one pretty progressive corner of our world, and frankly nobody asked some of the questions that I have,” Ullman said.
The reliability of field sobriety tests for people driving under the influence of marijuana was one example of her concerns, Ullman said.
While the tour had already collected more than 30,000 comments as of last month, Fetterman did not indicate at Wednesday’s event if the overall comments have been for or against legalization.
Public comment can still be submitted online at www.governor.pa.