Pennsylvania State Attorney General Josh Shapiro (D) declared victory in the Pennsylvania gubernatiorial race Nov. 8, defeating State Senator Doug Mastriano (R), 56.3% to 41.9%, according to The Associated Press.
Shapiro has been outspoken about his support for adult-use cannabis legalization and righting the wrongs caused by unjust policies and the war on drugs. In March, he tweeted, “We can cut costs, legalize recreational marijuana, and raise the minimum wage in Pennsylvania. We just have to win in November.”
Now that Shapiro has won the 2022 gubernatorial race, what does this mean for the state’s cannabis industry?
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Former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf legalized cannabis for medical use in 2016 and has also been a longtime supporter of legalizing cannabis for adult-use, as well. He included adult-use legalization in his 2021 state budget proposal; however, the issue has failed to gain support from the General Assembly, Cannabis Business Times reported.
CBT spoke with Trent Woloveck, chief commercial director of Jushi Holdings, a multistate vertically integrated cannabis company with 18 retail locations in Pennsylvania, to discuss what Shapiro’s election means for the state’s cannabis industry and how Shapiro’s administration could help progress the industry.
Andriana Ruscitto (AR): Pennsylvania recently elected Democrat Josh Shapiro as governor. What does this mean for the state’s cannabis industry?
Trent Woloveck (TW): Governor-elect Shapiro has been a champion during his time leading up to the race around what cannabis should be, needs to be, and continues to be here in the Commonwealth. [For the] medical cannabis program, reinforcing and ensuring the patients here in the Commonwealth continue to be able to leverage and get their medical cannabis through the program is a huge win and a step forward to continuing to keep that program in place.
The second piece, and I think the bigger piece, is that Governor-elect Shapiro has come out in support of putting a proper commercial adult-use program in place for the Commonwealth. When you look at bordering states such as New York, which [is rolling out its] adult-use program; Maryland, which passed the ballot initiative a couple of days back for an adult-use program; [and] New Jersey just launched an [adult-use program] a couple of months back, you’re starting to see Pennsylvanians leave the state and go spend dollars in other markets.
So, there are companies here in the Commonwealth that continue to spend hundreds of millions of dollars building out infrastructure, creating thousands of jobs within the state, and paying tens of millions of dollars of tax revenue. That’s something that’s super important to continue to grow as we transition to an adult-use program in the Commonwealth.
I also think for Governor-elect Shapiro, being able to right the wrongs of the war on drugs and ensure that people that have been convicted of nonviolent cannabis crimes [are able to] reinvest in their communities and being involved in an adult-use program is also going to be another huge piece that the governor-elect will continue to help push through. With the House and the Senate at the state level continuing to be Republican-controlled, I’m looking forward to seeing them put together a good, fair, balanced program.
AR: How do you foresee Governor-elect Shapiro helping to shape the state’s industry? What sound policies do you think will be implemented under his administration?
TW: I think there has got to be a fair and balanced approach with the state legislators still being Republican controlled, which I think is ensuring a smooth, easy transition of medical operators, [and] still keeping medical patients of the Commonwealth happy and available to continue to purchase their medical cannabis within a regulated program.
Currently, there’s a strong illicit market here that hides under the guise of CBD stores or hemp stores, so people are taking advantage of that gray area and allowing illicit cartels and illicit behavior to happen here. So, it becomes a public safety piece and a law-and-order piece which, obviously, Governor-elect Shapiro would also understand, given his background as state AG (attorney general) prior to his current position as soon-to-be governor.
AR: With Republicans still controlling both chambers of the state legislature, what challenges do you think could arise from working towards implementing an adult-use program in the state?
TW: I think Republicans are starting to look at and understand that public safety piece that we just talked about, the law-and-order piece [and] the criminal aspect of it, but also, on top of that, the economic development that the cannabis industry has had here in the Commonwealth. … Millions of dollars have been reinvested into the state. Tens of thousands of jobs have been created, and tens of millions, if not hundreds of millions of dollars of taxes, have been collected. That doesn’t happen with the illicit market. You also see very similar to [the] gambling [industry] as an example here in the Commonwealth, people used to get bused over to Atlantic City from downtown Philly on paydays, so money was leaving the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and going to neighboring states. I don’t think Republicans are going to make that mistake again.
AR: How does Jushi plan to work with Governor-elect Shapiro to help him shape cannabis-related policy reform?
TW: We’re extremely excited to educate legislators and the governor’s office about where the current state of the program is at and what the opportunity is for the Commonwealth. We’re really excited about having a bicameral and bipartisan partnership on legislation that would work through the House and the Senate for both Republicans and Democrats, and being able to bring that to the governor’s desk to implement, sign and continue to grow what is a great industry here in the Commonwealth, and grow what people want, which is good, safe, standardized, regulated cannabis.
AR: With Jushi’s wide presence in Pennsylvania, what is the company looking forward to in 2023?
TW: First and foremost is continuing to service the patients of Pennsylvania in all 18 of our [retail] locations. We also have a grower-processor [license] in Scranton, so [we’re] able to continue to roll out new innovative products that we will continue to grow and allow patients to continue to use cannabis to alleviate symptoms and qualifying conditions.
We just finished a large expansion for flower in a brand-new lab. So, getting that up to speed and continuing to pour tens of millions of dollars again in infrastructure, creating hundreds of jobs, and being a good steward in all the communities that we operate in, whether that’s retail, cultivation or manufacturing.
AR: With a new governor in place, could 2023 be the year of adult-use legalization in Pennsylvania? Why or why not?
TW: I am extremely excited about the work that the industry has done over the last couple of years with the legislature to pull together a program that will work for patients [and] consumers over the age of 21, existing operators, bringing in new operators, and being able to ensure public safety, ensure law and order, and ensure the expungement and the opportunity for minorities to get involved [and] integrated into the industry that’s being created here. I think if you look around to neighboring states as they continue to grow and launch adult-use, I don’t think government officials, legislators, [or] the executive branch is going to sit on their hands and not act because this is what the population of Pennsylvania wants.