FILE - PA Kerry Benninghoff 8-11-2020

Pennsylvania House Majority Leader Kerry Benninghoff speaks Aug. 11, 2020, during a news conference at the state Capitol in Harrisburg.

(The Center Square) – Even as legalizing recreational cannabis picks up momentum in the Pennsylvania Senate, the House’s leadership team said it’s not a priority in their caucus.

“We are losing 15, 16 people on average per day to other addiction problems, adding another legalized substance probably is not the best message to be sending,” said Rep. Kerry Benninghoff, R-Bellefonte, who leads the Republican caucus and controls the voting schedule. “There’s a lot of things we’re working on now, but that’s not top of the list.” 

The comments come as Republican support for the policy grows in the Senate. On Monday, Sen. Mike Regan, R-Dillsburg, teased his forthcoming bill that trades tax revenue on adult-use cannabis sales for investments in the state police. 

It’s the second GOP-backed plan offered in the upper chamber. In February, Erie Republican Sen. Dan Laughlin co-sponsored a bill with Sen. Sharif Street, D-Philadelphia, to legalize adult-use, decriminalize possession “up to a certain point,” and wipe nonviolent cannabis-related offenses from convicted residents’ criminal records. 

Gov. Tom Wolf expressed his support for recreational cannabis in 2019 and, as recently as this week, encouraged legislators to send him a bill – so long as it includes “restorative justice” for low level offenders.

Benninghoff said Wednesday that it's the federal government's responsibility to lift cannabis prohibitions. It's also unclear where Senate leadership stands on the policy.

Staff Reporter

Christen Smith follows Pennsylvania's General Assembly for The Center Square. She is an award-winning reporter with more than a decade of experience covering state and national policy issues for niche publications and local newsrooms alike.