Philly Mayor: Sell Cannabis in State Liquor Stores

By Kelly Burch 05/17/17

The conversation is still hypothetical—recreational marijuana is not yet legal in Pennsylvania.

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The mayor of Philadelphia says pot should be sold in state-run liquor stores if Pennsylvania moves forward with legalizing recreational marijuana use.

Mayor Jim Kenney says that the idea has multiple benefits, from ensuring that underage buyers don’t have access to marijuana, to making sure that the state collects the revenue from sales.

"To me, we have the perfect system to set up the legal recreational use of cannabis through a controlled state store system, allowing the state to capture all the income that is going to the underground,” Kenney said in an interview with WHYY's Radio Times.

The state-run liquor stores are rigorous in their inspection of IDs, which would help keep marijuana out of the hands of people who shouldn’t be using it.

"The hardest place to get served underage in Philadelphia when I was growing up was a Pennsylvania state liquor store," Kenney said. "You could get a bartender to look the other way and sell you a six-pack when you are 19, but when you went into a state store, they wanted to see a license, your license. They didn't care.” 

The conversation is still hypothetical, since the state of Pennsylvania has not adopted recreational marijuana. Last year the state legalized medical marijuana, and officials are expected to begin issuing permits for dispensaries and growers by June of this year. According to the state’s timeline, people should be able to access medical marijuana by early 2018.

However, some leaders in the state are already toying with the idea of legalizing recreational marijuana. Auditor General Eugene DePasquale said in March that the potential revenue from legalized marijuana must be considered.

"The regulation and taxation of marijuana train has rumbled out of the station," he said. "The question is whether Pennsylvania is going to miss its stop as the train moves across the country.”

DePasquale said that the opportunity for increased revenue and new jobs should make the prospect of legalized marijuana appealing to the state. “If I told you that the budget negotiators from the Legislature and the governor's office this June would have $200 million of found money ... would they throw that money out the window or find a way to utilize it?" he said.

Governor Tom Wolf has said that he is open to considering recreational marijuana, but wants to roll out the medical program first. "I want to learn from the experience of other states that have full legalization and I welcome discussion on this issue with the Legislature,” he said earlier this year.

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.