Interviews & Profiles

Q&A with Dan Laughlin

The Republican state senator outlines why he supports expanding the scope of the adult-use cannabis market.

Dan Laughlin

Dan Laughlin Doug Gross/PA Senate

One of the few Republicans in Harrisburg willing to talk candidly about the future of cannabis in the commonwealth is state Sen. Dan Laughlin. The Erie lawmaker has made bipartisan approaches to contentious topics a calling card, joining Democrats in favor of legalizing marijuana and increasing the state minimum wage. 

Laughlin, who introduced Senate Bill 846 alongside Democratic state Sen. Sharif Street, continues to advocate for an updated and equitable approach to medical marijuana and an eventual adult-use cannabis market. City & State spoke with Laughlin on his proposal, concerns surrounding legalization and what bills could realistically be passed this year. 

The conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

Can you talk about your latest legalization proposal – Senate Bill 846 – and how you came to the proposed tax rate of 8%?

The revenue portion here is the most interesting. I’ve long been a proponent that everything in Pennsylvania should be taxed at the same rate. It would raise a lot of eyebrows and there certainly can be an argument made for it. But what we learned from some of these other states is that if you try and tax marijuana too high, all you’re really doing is helping the black market. That’s why we settled at the 8% tax rate … We tried to be very mindful. In reality, we would be competing against the black market, so a lower tax rate would have advantages.

Legalization discussions are often focused on the benefits of cannabis use. Can you speak on some of the issues related to cannabis and how Pennsylvania could avoid potential pitfalls in a legal market? 

You might be surprised to know, especially since I’m the sponsor of this bill, that I’m not a big fan of cannabis. But we’re at a point in society where this is clearly happening … so I decided it was best to write the legislation. 

I think everybody realized that Pennsylvanians are buying cannabis. There is no real shortage of access, so I think at this point in time, the legislature should do our job – write the legislation, regulate it, tax it and make sure it’s safe.  

There are also discrepancies between local, state and federal law when it comes to cannabis possession. How does this incongruence impact not just law enforcement but consumers as well?

I’m surprised the federal government hasn’t done anything. We need to seriously update our driving-under-the-influence laws. I can’t think of a single legislator who doesn’t take driving and safety very seriously. Under our current laws, someone can be unimpaired but have THC in their system and get charged with a DUI. That’s not fair. That would be like having too much to drink on a Saturday night, going home, driving to work on Monday and getting a DUI. I don’t think anyone believes that’s reasonable. We truly need to update these laws. 

Outside of the bipartisan legalization bill, is there anything else in the cannabis space that you’re focused on?

I’m hopeful to have my edibles bill done by the end of the year, and the reason I say that is because it should have been part of the medical program back in 2015. Edibles are a viable way to take cannabis. Having an option for a cancer patient to be able to just throw a piece of candy in there to deliver their medicine seems like a no-brainer to me, especially since we already have the medical marijuana program. 

For folks worried about children getting into it, we have language in the bill to ensure child-resistant packaging. Any adult with any medication should keep them under lock and key. Quite frankly, I don’t know what the pushback is. 

Back to Special Report: Cannabis in Pennsylvania

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