As Pennsylvania's race for governor begins to take shape, one candidate has chosen the controversial issue of marijuana legalization as one of the cornerstones of his campaign.
John Hanger, a Democratic candidate for Pennsylvania governor, today unveiled two campaign billboards that send an urgent message on the subject: legalize and tax marijuana now.
Hanger's political director Roger Cohen said addressing the punishment of marijuana possession is just one of the topics Hanger plans to focus on throughout his campaign for governor.
"The motto of the campaign is jobs, not jails and the legalization and taxation of marijuana. This is a very important issue to hundreds of thousands, if not millions of Pennsylvanians," Cohen said.
"There are people's lives who have been ruined by arrest and incarceration for this offense -- mainly African-Americans -- and there are hundreds of thousands of families who have a sick relative who can't get medicine. These are issues about freedom and one of the focuses of the campaign is creating a new freedom."
The billboards are located in Erie, Pa. on I-79 South and in Scranton, Pa. on I-81.
Hanger's chief rival, incumbent Gov. Tom Corbett, has vocally opposed legalization of marijuana and several other candidates, including Congresswoman Allyson Schwartz, have yet to take a definitive stance on the issue.
Also today, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania Reggie Shuford was among five panelist who participated in a briefing with members of the Pennsylvania Legislative Black Caucus to discuss the need for new legislation on marijuana possession offenses.
Shuford says he presented findings from the ACLU's 2013 report The War on Marijuana in Black and White: Billions of Dollars Wasted on Racially Biased Arrests and discussed the distinct impact that marijuana offense arrests have had on the African American community.
"Everybody there seemed open to continuing the conversation on this issue," Shuford said.
NBC10 recently conducted an unscientific poll asking readers what Philly should do about marijuana possession. Nearly 300 of 347 respondents said marijuana should be legalized. A mere 30 respondents said marijuana possession should remain an arrestable offense and less than 25 respondents said marijuana possession should be reduced to a fineable offense.