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Pennsylvania Senate Committee Holds Hearing On Legalizing Recreational Marijuana

HARRISBURG (KDKA) - A state Senate hearing on Monday morning could be the kickoff to legalizing adult use marijuana in Pennsylvania.

As political editor Jon Delano explains, a Republican state senator says he wants to build on the success of the state's medical marijuana program.

Pennsylvania Sen. Mike Rega -- a Republican from York County with two decades in law enforcement and the author of a bill to legalize, regulate, and tax adult use marijuana -- chaired the Senate's first hearing on this topic, saying adult use is already a given in this state.

"It is already being used by millions of people, young and old, far and wide. But in doing so, they are putting billions of dollars into the hands of the violent criminals," Regan told his committee. "My focus is bringing down illegal drug operations, providing Pennsylvania adults with a safe product and keeping revenue within the commonwealth instead of going to neighboring states with legalized adult use marijuana or, worse, to organized criminals."

The Senate's Law and Justice Committee heard from district attorneys who acknowledged that small time marijuana use is not really prosecuted as a drug offense.

"It's hard for law enforcement to be the good guys when you're arresting someone that 62 percent of the country believes should be legal," said Robert Greene, district attorney for Warren County. "We're arresting people for something, a plant, that the majority of Americans think should be legal -- 54 percent of Republicans and 68 percent of Democrats believe recreational marijuana, adult use marijuana, should be legal."

Regan, a former U.S. Marshal, says the state should legalize, regulate and tax all marijuana use here just as neighboring states of New York and New Jersey have done.

Regan says unlike medical cannabis which is strictly controlled by the state, recreational marijuana shipped here by crime syndicates is often dangerous. Legalization means regulating its quality.

"We find they're being laced with fentanyl, being laced with embalming fluid, contain all kinds of pathogens, really unsafe product," Regan told KDKA political editor Jon Delano after the hearing.

While some say those fears are exaggerated, Regan says public safety is not the only reason to legalize and tax recreational cannabis.

"Behind every drug operation is violence, guns, murder, all those things, and there's billions of dollars from Pennsylvania and other states going across the border to mexico, Columbia, source countries to these cartels."

WATCH: KDKA's Jon Delano reports

At the Monday Senate hearing, state senators heard witnesses advocate for legalized cannabis, but Scott Bohn, executive director of the Pennsylvania Chiefs of Police Association, which was not invited to testify, has reservations.

"I think they need to take a step back," says Bohn.

Bohn says more data needs to be collected from states where marijuana is already legal. He worries about the impact on young people, families and those driving on the road.

"Those who are in the field of alcohol and controlled substances and their relative input and impact so they can share it with the committee and help frame this in a way that we can move it forward," he adds.

Regan says his committee will have more hearings before drafting a final bill.

"Get a bill probably in May, early June, and then run the bill out sometime in June, maybe July, so this is not happening tomorrow," says Regan.

It took years to get medical marijuana approved here, but Regan thinks this effort will go faster, in part because it could bring in $500 million to $1 billion in tax revenue.

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