Sen. Daylin Leach (D–Montgomery, Penn.) recently acquired notoriety after engaging in a social media standoff with President Donald Trump.
But, this active lawmaker can't be reduced to a simple beef with the president; Leach is an activist, a defender of the cannabis legalization cause.
Consequently, Benzinga reached out to the public servant to discuss his views and positions in relation to cannabis legalization.
Medical And Recreational
In some ways, legalization of medical cannabis and legalization of marijuana for adult use, are two separate issues. However, this doesn't mean there is no overlap between them. “Decades of misinformation and demonization have resulted in an irrational policy in both domains,” Leach explained.
“Certainly, it was irrational to deny people medicine that would make them better,” the senator said. “The fact that there was medicine that would make people better, but we wouldn’t give to people because of old wives’ tales and irrational fears just made my head want to explode. This is why I got involved in fighting for the right of people to use medical marijuana in Pennsylvania. We were ultimately successful, and the governor signed my bill into law last April.”
Marijuana In Pennsylvania
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf signed the law that regulates the production, supply and access to compassionate medical cannabis (Compassionate Care Act) on April 17, 2016. Implementation procedures started shortly after that.
“We are in the process of releasing the regulations and getting the licenses issued,” Leach said. “Everything is moving along at a very quick pace, which is important because every day that someone needlessly suffers is a bad day.”
The illegality of adult use is also irrational.
“Prohibition, frankly, is a cruel, heartless policy that destroys lives, costs billions of dollars, and has many, many detrimental effects on society,” he said. “So, I am also now pushing to end the prohibition on adult use, or recreational, as some people call it as well.”
“I believe that will happen nationwide. We have already seen great progress being made in just the last few years, both in terms of state laws changing and in terms of the position of the electorate changing as we see in the polls on this issue,” Leach said.
The Argument For Adult Use
Benzinga: Why do you argue that keeping cannabis illegal for adult use is an “irrational” policy?
Sen. Leach: First of all, we are putting tens of thousands of law-abiding citizens into the criminal justice system every year. The cost of prosecuting them, incarcerating them, monitoring them, is in the hundreds of millions of dollars. The cost in terms of academic careers ended and professional careers ended is just as high.
In addition, prohibition results in a black market. Since black markets cannot be enforced by regulation and law, they are enforced by violence and lawlessness. We saw that with alcohol prohibition: you had Lucky Luciano and the Valentine’s Day Massacre; you had all kinds of violence as a result of that. Now we just have you go to a strip mall and you buy a bottle of Grey Goose at the liquor store. There is very little machine gun fire involved.
When you go and buy alcohol, you [also] get carded. They make sure you’re the right age. Another important thing is, when you go and buy your bottle of whatever it is, you know what you are buying; you know what’s in it, you know the potency. You drink differently if you’re buying beer than if you’re buying grain alcohol because you know the alcohol content.
We want the same thing for recreational marijuana. We don’t want people buying it behind a bowling alley where they don’t know what they’re buying, what the potency of it and what it’s mixed with. We want them buying it from vetted, licensed entrepreneurs, rather than drug cartels.
For all of these reasons we have got to legalize cannabis. I do not mean decriminalize, because decriminalizing does not solve the problem. We have to legalize cannabis and we will. I am convinced within less than a decade all 50 states will have recreational marijuana legalized.
The Challenges Of Federal Legalization
BZ: Why do you think legalization is so challenging at the federal level?
Leach: Keep in mind that the federal laws came into effect first with Marijuana Tax Act in 1937; that’s 80 years ago.
We are slowly changing that now. Congress has actually been quite good, passing a law prohibiting the Justice Department from using federal funds to enforce marijuana laws, for example.
Unfortunately, we now have an attorney general who is a dead-ender who — I think — has "Reefer Madness," the movie, on a continuous loop playing in his home. He is sort of a dead-ender on civil rights too. It’s not just marijuana issues.
BZ: So, do you think the Cole Memo is at risk under a Trump administration – or a Jeff Sessions term?
Leach: The attorney general is a risk. He can make things more difficult [but] he can’t stop it. The cat’s out of the bag, so to speak; we’re too far down the track.
If there are no state laws to prosecute people, the feds do not have the resources to prosecute people for possession cases, so essentially, it’s going to be legal. He can close a dispensary or he could raid a grow house if he wanted to, but all that does is take money out of the hands of responsible people with licenses and put it into the hands of violent drug cartels. A stupider policy is hard to imagine.
BZ: Do you see legalization coming anytime soon or is it something where we’ll have to wait until the end of the Donald Trump administration to see?
Leach: I think we may see continued moves by Congress to make it more difficult to prosecute people or mess with people in other ways for marijuana offenses. But full progress, the progress we need, de-listing and getting rid of federal prohibition, that’s probably going to have to wait until the end of the Trump administration, and that can’t happen soon enough.
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