How Pennsylvania is turning vape bans into a push for weed legalization

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Pennsylvania politicians are using the vape crisis as leverage for decriminalizing recreational cannabis use in the state, Vice recently reported. Vaping has been linked to 2,291 cases of illness and 48 deaths to date nationally, according to the CDC. It appears lawmakers are finally starting to rationalize that if weed were legal, people might be less likely to seek out bootleg vapes, many of which are produced with potentially dangerous chemicals.

Pennsylvania’s Governor Tom Wolf has introduced a bill proposing the use of recreational marijuana in Pennsylvania in what seems to be a response both to the increased approval of marijuana legalization and the vape-related illness, according to Vice. Other Pennsylvania officials have also proven to have a progressive mindset when it comes to harm reduction. Lt. Governor John Fetterman recently went on a “cannabis tour” of the state and his polling suggested that 65-70% of people in Pennsylvania support the legalization of recreational marijuana.

Fetterman’s rigorous research reportedly convinced Governor Wolf that marijuana legalization was a good idea. Wolf publicly announced that he was in favor of legalization in September. Pennsylvania State Senators Sharif Street (D., Philadelphia.) and Daylin Leach (D., Montgomery) then put forth a bill legalizing cannabis. The bill would also put regulatory power in the hands of growers, which would financially empower them, according to local proponents.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. While, forward-thinking politicians like Wolf, Fetterman, and the senators that put forth the SB 350 bill are coming to evidence-based conclusions that could lead to real legislative progress, they’re leading a still unpopular charge.

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These politicians seem to be in the vanguard of folks who are using the vape crisis as a way to decriminalize cannabis, and even Pennsylvanians may not get to reap the rewards of their forward thinking officials. The Pennsylvania legislature is Republican-dominated and is not on board with the idea of weed legalization, so the bill remains in limbo.

Lt. Governor Fetterman tweeted that legalizing marijuana has a long list of benefits while keeping it illegal allows, "a dude to bootleg vape kits in his garage." This is in line with what experts in public health are asserting. "It makes sense for states to legalize cannabis and strictly regulate it," said Michael Siegel, a professor of community health sciences at Boston University and a tobacco industry expert, to Vice. "States should not be banning e-cigarettes, but instead implementing strict safety regulations. I think this is the primary lesson from the outbreak."

Even folks who champion vapes are surprised that the connection between the illnesses caused by illegally produced vapes and legalizing weed hasn’t been made sooner. Gregory Conley, the president of the American Vaping Association said, "It's remarkable that more Democratic governors have not used this spate of lung illnesses and deaths caused by illicit THC products to argue for a regulated and legal recreational marijuana market,” reported Vice.