State Senator Sharif Street has emerged as a Pennsylvania leader for adult use legalization. The son of Philadelphia’s powerful former Democratic Mayor John Street, Sharif Street is one of the two sponsors of a bipartisan adult use legalization bill and has made social equity and home grow a priority in his efforts.
Pennsylvania’s last legislative session was a disappointment for cannabis advocates, however, as Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf wrapped up his term-limited administration and little legislation moved. The state remains medical-only, strictly managed by the Department of Health, and bars the sale of edibles or visitors of any kind to cannabis facilities.
In an interview with Sen. Street last week, he told us the possibility adult use would be legalized by 2024 was, “Very high. Likely.” He also had insights on why the state works the way it does, and what it will take to pass legalization.
This interview was edited for clarity and grammar.
Grown In: How would you characterize attitudes toward cannabis in the Pennsylvania Senate, and legislature in general?
State Sen. Sharif Street: I think that people recognize that the adult use of recreational cannabis is going to be legal in the near future. It’s come to New York and New Jersey, our border states, so I think people recognize that. I think that sort of uniform recognition is relatively new. Clearly Democrats reached that point before Republicans. But that is the beginning of the discussion, not the end.
The question is now around time, place and manner; how is this going to work? Serious consideration around DUI laws, particular among Republican members. Amongst more progressive and African-American members, there is a recognition about the discriminatory things, and the ways it’s been enforced in the past and the impact it’s had around Black and brown communities. We’re four or five times more likely to be in contact with law enforcement.
There are concerns around the workplace and how do you define what intoxication or impairment is. Those are all things people are thinking about.
Grown In: Your state lacks significant social equity measures in cannabis. What will it take to pass legislation to change that?
Sen. Street: I believe there will be social equity components to a recreational adult use bill. They weren’t there for medical cannabis. It should have been there. One thing we’d like to see and it frequently comes up, when you do recreational adult use and expand the cannabis industry, that we see a more egalitarian process, that allows folks that aren’t super rich, like small farmers that can engage as well as make sure disaffected communities more impacted by the War on Drugs can participate economically as well. So we proposed a social equity fund and social equity licenses as well as making sure there microgrow licenses and a mentorship program.
Those are some of the least controversial things that we discuss when moving forward with a recreational adult use bill.
Grown In: In states with Republican-led legislatures, like Michigan and Ohio, Republicans tend to have very little interest in social equity. Why do you think Pennsylvania will be any different?
Sen. Street: I don’t know what’s going on in other states, I’ve not studied those states. I can just tell you what’s going on in our state.
Grown In: What gives you assurances in the Pennsylvania Senate?
Sen. Street: Because I work with them. We have bills that have it in it, and having talked with colleagues, there’s not a lot of push back with those issues. I’m not speculating, I work with these folks every day, there isn’t a lot of push back on it.
If we didn’t initiate it would they have come up with it, I don’t know. But they don’t seem to have real objections to it.
Grown In: You’ve stood out as a supporter of home grow. Why has that been your lead issue?
Sen. Street: Because cannabis is really expensive, and medical marijuana is expensive. Because of the federal prohibitions, it’s still a Schedule I drug, federally there’s almost no ability to use insurance for cannabis, therefore people have to pay out of pocket. Home grow creates a viable option for cannabis patients that can’t afford to use it otherwise.
Grown In: Last spring, Republican Sen. Mike Regan held hearings on cannabis. Did they change anything in the legislature?
Sen. Street: I think those hearings were much more focused around what Republicans were concerned about. Around determining what intoxication levels were, around determining how this would affect law enforcement, but overall I think what you’ll find is that the majority of respondents were pro legalization. I think overall it advanced the conversation towards legalization.
Grown In: In your opinion, what is the likelihood that adult use cannabis could be legalized by the end of 2024?
Sen. Street: Very high. Likely. I believe attitudes are there. I think the hold up – I don’t think this administration will get it done in the waning months of a governor’s administration. But I think once we’re past this election, we won’t have another gubernatorial election until 2026. I don’t think anybody believes we should be waiting for that. Nobody believes this will impact the presidential election. So when you set the electoral politics aside, we’ll be able to focus on the issues and what is or isn’t holding us back and we’ll be able to get it done.
Grown In: Pennsylvania regulators have a reputation of not encouraging the industry, of treating cannabis more like a dangerous drug than a mild intoxicant. Why do you think that is?
Sen. Street: Cannabis is currently regulated in Pennsylvania out of the Department of Health, and the Department of Health deals with drugs. We have proposed to create a cannabis control board that would regulate cannabis, primarily staffed by the Department of Agriculture, and the Health Department would be brought in only for instances for which it needs to be brought in.
I think the Department of Agriculture will be more sensitive to needs of growers and producers, recognizing that it is a product that’s going to be ingested by human beings in some way, and that it needs to meet certain regulatory standards. I think they will be more user friendly and consumer friendly as well.