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Gov. Wolf calls for legalization of adult recreational marijuana use

Gov. Tom Wolf called for the decriminalization and legalization of adult use of recreational marijuana Wednesday after concluding Pennsylvanians support his announcements.

Wolf, during a live streamed news conference from Harrisburg, made the announcements after Lt. Gov. John Fetterman concluded his marijuana listening tour of all of the state’s 67 counties.

“This is something I think Pennsylvania is ready for,” Wolf said, with Fetterman at his side.

The governor made three requests of the Legislatures, the first of which involved getting a bill to his desk that would decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana.

The second call to action involved a law that would expunge the records of people with such convictions, a move he said would affect “tens of thousands of people.”

He said these convictions have ruined lives and prevented people from getting jobs, finding housing and enrolling in schools.

His third request of state lawmakers, something that might be more difficult to accomplish, is for the House and Senate to seriously consider the legalization of small amounts of marijuana.

“I agree with that,” Wolf said.

More than 10,000 people attended Fetterman’s listening tour over 93 days, and it included a February stop in Washington, where he was greeted with overwhelming support for legalizing cannabis.

Chad DeSantis, a supporter of legalization from Monongahela, said the time is right to legalize recreational cannabis use.

“Not only has science determined that the most dangerous things about the plant are buying it on the black market or getting caught with it, the current regulations should already make most existing laws impossible for the police to enforce legally,” DeSantis said.

Meanwhile, in Greene County, where opinions on recreational marijuana were equally mixed when Fetterman stopped there in February, one woman referred to Wolf’s proposal as a “costly disaster.”

“This is a dangerous game being played and these politicians are going to start a fire that no man will be able to control,” said Stephanie MacCartney of Waynesburg.

Randy Raymond of North Union Township in Fayette County has characterized himself as being “in the middle,” with concern about the murkiness of DUI testing for marijuana and in favor of making the question of legalization a direct ballot referendum.

“I understand the taxation piece, (but) where would tax dollars go, what are they going to be earmarked for?” Raymond said.

Fetterman said Wednesday opposition to legalization is “a minority view now in Pennsylvania.”

He said no one who came to his meetings believed marijuana should be a Schedule I drug under federal law, putting it in the same category as heroin.

Of the people who attended the listening tour, 68% were in favor of legalization, Wolf said.

Of those who provided other comments, either by phone or email, 82% supported legalization, he said.

The state House Republican Leadership team was quick to denounce Wolf’s proposal to legalize small amounts of marijuana.

“We are disappointed and frustrated Gov. Wolf would promote recreational use of a drug classified as a Schedule I narcotic by the federal government. Our state is in the midst of an opioid epidemic,” the GOP leadership stated in a news release.

State Sen. Camera Bartolotta, R-Carroll, said she agreed with House Republicans.

“This is not the time to legalize,” said Bartolotta.

She said she didn’t believe the statistics drawn from Fetterman’s tour represent the opinions of her district.

She said she does support the decriminalization of possessing small amounts of the drug.


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Neighbors oppose women's drug and alcohol recovery house proposed in South Strabane and East Washington

A proposed long-term residential home for pregnant women and mothers recovering from drug and alcohol addiction is facing opposition from residents of South Strabane Township and East Washington Borough who live near the house.

Gaudenzia Foundation Inc., a Norristown non-profit organization, is seeking to purchase the home at 100 Wilmont Avenue and open a residential rehabilitation facility on the nearly seven-acre property. The property is owned by John and Kerrin McIlvaine and was on the market for about three years, Gaudenzia said.

Gaudenzia representatives held an informational meeting Wednesday at the South Strabane Township Fire Station to discuss details of the facility, and many of the approximately 50 residents of the two municipalities who attended the contentious gathering spoke out against it.

Residents expressed concerns about several issues, including the impact the facility would have on their property value, a possible increase in traffic and operating a treatment facility in an area zoned residential.

“We all want to help people with addiction issues before, during and after. I’m sure you have a great program. But my one concern is, why this location?” asked resident John Tripoli.

But operators of the proposed treatment facility maintain the home is a place for women who have completed detox and their children to transition to independent living, and contend it will not negatively impact the community.

The rehabilitation facility would house up to 16 women with up to two children each, under the age of 12, for a total of 48 occupants.

Gaudenzia would provide support services, along with transportation and access to doctors, nurses, and substance abuse treatment professionals.

Cheryl Andrews, executive director of the Washington Drug and Alcohol Commission, which receives state funding to assist uninsured and under-insured individuals, said a needs assessment conducted in 2018 revealed that, while Washington County has many treatment providers, it lacks sufficient programs for pregnant women and women with children. There’s lots of open spaces.

The commission put out a request for proposals for a program that would address that need, and Gaudenzia, one of five organizations who submitted a proposal, received the offer to provide services.

“We have two options for pregnant females in Washington County, and both are in Pittsburgh,” said Andrews. “What that does is it breaks families apart, it makes women have to leave their home county of where their family is, where their recovery support is, and they have to re-establish in Pittsburgh,” she said.

David Slenger, director of operations for Gaudenzia, which operates rehabilitation facilities throughout the state, said it is not uncommon for the organization to meet resistance from neighbors.

“We commonly go into communities and face resistance,” said Slenger. “’Not in my back yard’ is a common phenomenon. But we have proven to be good neighbors.”

Residents, however, voiced displeasure and said they do not believe Gaudenzia has done enough research about the impact it will have on the community, which simply does not want a rehabilitation facility in the neighborhood.

Asked one resident, “What impact will it have on the health, safety and well-being of this community?”

Residents plan to meet at Citizens Library at 6 p.m. today to further discuss the rehabilitation facility.


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Area politicians split on Dems' decision to open Trump impeachment inquiry

U.S. Sen. Bob Casey contended Wednesday President Donald Trump abused his power, urging lawmakers to act.

“I support a formal impeachment inquiry in the House of Representatives,” Casey, D-Lackawanna County, said. “My concerns about the president’s conduct have grown over months, particularly as I thoroughly reviewed Special Counsel (Robert) Mueller’s report.”

This week, the U.S. House of Representatives announced it would begin an official impeachment inquiry, with Democrats alleging the president abused his power by seeking help from Ukraine’s president to undermine former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, who is seeking the Democratic presidential nod.

Trump repeatedly pushed Ukraine’s president to “look into” Biden, according to a rough transcript of a summer phone call that is now at the center of Democrats’ impeachment probe.

Trump urged Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to work with Attorney General William Barr and Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s personal lawyer.

At one point in the conversation, Trump said, “I would like for you to do us a favor.”

“If the House votes to impeach the president, I would be required as a U.S. Senator to vote in a Senate trial that would determine whether the president should be convicted and removed from office,” Casey said. “Should such a situation arise, I will keep an open mind. However, at this time, I cannot ignore the public evidence which has confronted all of us.”

U.S. Rep. Guy Reschenthaler, R-Peters Township, who represents Fayette, Washington and Greene counties, released a statement on the formal impeachment inquiry late Tuesday, calling it a sad day for our democracy.

“Speaker (Nancy) Pelosi’s decision to begin a formal impeachment inquiry based on secondhand allegations shows just how desperate the Democrats are to undo the will of the American people,” Reschenthaler said. “Calling for impeachment before learning the facts sets a dangerous precedent and shows that once again, House Democrats are putting political theater before the needs of the American people.”

U.S. Senator Pat Toomey, R-Lehigh County, also released a statement on the matter, saying he has repeatedly contended a candidate for federal office seeking assistance from a foreign government would be inappropriate.

The first step toward impeachment is taken by the House, which debates and votes on whether to bring charges. This can be done by a simple majority of the House’s 435 members.

If the House adopts an impeachment resolution, the Senate then holds a trial, with the chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court presiding. A two-thirds majority vote is required in the Senate to convict and remove a president.

Only 20 government officers in all, including presidents Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton, have been impeached, and only eight of them, all federal judges with lifetime tenure, have been convicted and removed from office.

Richard Nixon resigned to avoid being impeached in the Watergate scandal.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


Harry Funk / Harry Funk/The Almanac 

Joe Unitas

Harry Funk/The Almanac

Harry Funk/The Almanac

Joe Unitas in his Peters Township studio