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Growers and dispensaries say recreational marijuana could bring more jobs and tax revenue to an economy depleted by the coronavirus

(WKBN) – Last week, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf took to Twitter to announce his support for recreational marijuana in the state. We wanted to find out what it would take for it to be passed.

The first major push for medical marijuana in Pennsylvania happened in 2016. This year, Wolf is pushing for another step in the legalization process.

In 2019, the medical marijuana program in Pennsylvania generated more than $275 million as an industry. This year, it’s looking at bigger numbers — a projected $500 million in sales.

Wolf sees this as an opportunity to make up some tax money lost by the coronavirus pandemic.

Growers and dispensaries around the western part of Pennsylvania have been anticipating this kind of support for a while. They said it’s more of a game of “when” than “if” at this point.

Green Thumb owns dispensaries in New Castle and Hermitage, as well as in multiple other states across the country.

It’s been part of three markets that have gone from medical to recreational. When that happened, Green Thumb saw an uptick in business — in some cases, four times the amount of sales right out the gate.

On top of that, they’ve been able to add dozens of jobs to the economy in growing and supplying.

Green Thumb has been looking at Illinois as a model for what Pennsylvania’s recreational marijuana industry could look like. Just this year, Illinois generated $66 million in tax revenue from January 1 to July 31.

“I think the tax revenue speaks, first of all, to the deficit the state has right now,” said Tim Hawkins, vice president of retail. “The coronavirus has just decimated so many businesses in the state and that means our tax base has been depleted, so what is it that can bring it back?”

If some type of bill is passed in Pennsylvania, it could mean a potential of tens of millions of dollars for the state but there are going to be hurdles in the legislative process.

The legislation would have to pass through the Pennsylvania House and Senate first before it makes its way to the governor’s desk.

Pennsylvania only has 80 dispensaries right now for its medical marijuana program and about 20 local growers. Those numbers would have to increase drastically for any kind of recreational program to start.

Green Thumb Industries, the parent company of the local dispensaries, said it would have to ramp up production and hire more employees.

Hawkins said he welcomes opposing conversations about getting recreational marijuana passed.

“There’s a reason when the pandemic began and stores were shut down all over the state, all over the country, that cannabis and our dispensaries were deemed an essential business. This is an essential medicine for a lot of people.”

Pennsylvania currently has 300,000 medical patients.

Recreational marijuana wouldn’t be something that would pass overnight or in the next week. The proposed legislation would have to go over how much a person could buy, how much they could keep with them and where they’re able to use it.

Some states like Illinois and Nevada have created task forces to combat people driving under the influence. Those states have also put millions of dollars from sales back into things like playgrounds and roads.

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