PITTSBURGH — Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf is now in favor of legalizing marijuana for recreational use, saying Wednesday that most of the state's residents support it and that the state has a wealth of knowledge from the experience in other states to guide it.
Wolf, a second-term Democrat, packaged his announcement with a call to the Republican-controlled Legislature to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana and allow the expungement of past convictions of nonviolent and small marijuana-related crimes.
"I think it's time for the General Assembly to sit down and craft a bill that actually recognizes that Pennsylvania is ready for this, and also takes advantage of what we've learned from other states in terms of what to do and what not to do," Wolf told a news conference in his Capitol offices.
Pushback from the Legislature's top Republicans was forceful and quick Wednesday, as it has been in the past to the governor's overtures on marijuana.
"Our caucus has no plans or interest in legalizing recreational marijuana," the House's Republican leadership said in a joint statement.
Eleven states have approved the legalization of marijuana for recreational use, although only two state legislatures, in Vermont and Illinois, have passed bills to legalize marijuana, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Otherwise, voters in the other states legalized marijuana through referendum, an avenue that Pennsylvania law does not allow.
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Wolf's announcement advances his position from last December, when he signaled that he was open to taking a look at it as it gathered popularity and momentum, in particular in bordering New Jersey and New York.
Before last winter, Wolf had dismissed the idea, saying that Pennsylvania was not ready yet.
Still, Wolf has long supported decriminalizing the possession of small amounts of marijuana, although the Legislature hasn't even seriously considered legislation to that effect, and he signed legislation in 2016 creating Pennsylvania's medical marijuana program.
Public opinion polls in Pennsylvania have shown a majority of those asked were in favor of legalizing marijuana, as did a report released Wednesday from Lt. Gov. John Fetterman's statewide listening tour on legalizing marijuana.
According to the report, the legalization of recreational marijuana has the support of 90 percent of people in Allegheny County, 86 percent in Beaver and Butler counties, 74 percent in Fayette County and 87 percent in Centre County. (CLICK HERE for the full report.)