PA Gubernatorial Candidate John Hanger: Marijuana Reform Can Elect the Next PA Governor

  • by Erik Altieri, NORML Executive Director August 28, 2013

    While the general election for governor is still a little over a year away, things are heating up in Pennsylvania as Democrats vie for their party’s nomination to run against incumbent Governor Corbett (R). Seven candidates have so far announced their candidacy and one of them, former Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection John Hanger, is running on a pro-marijuana law reform platform and wants to not only decriminalize cannabis and allow for its medical use, he wants to see it fully legalized by 2017.

    With a crowded field, and no required run-off election, it is likely the winner of the primary will be decided by several thousand Pennsylvania voters. John Hanger sees this unique situation as not only a boon for his campaign, but for the marijuana law reform issue. “Marijuana law reform has power to elect next governor,” John Hanger stated, “If just 1 out of 3 monthly marijuana users vote, we will win.”

    John Hanger discussed his plans for marijuana law reform in a telephone interview with NORML Communications Director Erik Altieri. The transcript of that conversation is below:

    What was the impetus for taking up the issue of marijuana law reform?

    John Hanger: The tipping point for me was just running for governor and realizing that I’ll be in charge of implementing laws, that in the case of marijuana, are unjust. I don’t want to be in the position of enforcing unjust laws. I take doing the right thing seriously. I don’t want to deny cannabis to a sick child because our laws require me to do that as governor. I want to campaign to change unjust laws so I don’t have to administer unjust laws.

    I’ve been coming to terms with the seriousness of running for governor and being governor. The marijuana laws in Pennsylvania are unjust. It goes beyond medical marijuana, the criminalization of possession of small amounts of marijuana is unjust, it is destroying people’s lives. It is branding them as drug criminals for the rest of their lives. It’s hurting them in a way that three presidents of the United States have not been hurt for their behavior. It is beyond hypocritical.

    I’m also very focused on making sure the Pennsylvania budget is invested in the real needs of our state. There is never enough money for all the things that need to happen. There are very important services that are underfunded, but we are spending 350 million dollars enforcing these unjust laws. It means less money for schools, less money for health, less money for roads and bridges. It is destructive to other vital needs in Pennsylvania.

    When you look at whats right and come to the conclusion these laws must be reformed, the public is with us on medical marijuana and decriminalization…the public is ahead of the politicians on the first two steps and I’m leading on the third step. I’m working to champion and build to the third step, legalization, because it is the right thing to do. I crafted this three step reform plan because this will allow PA’s to have confidence in moving through each step.

    What has the reception to your marijuana reform platform been like?

    JH: In terms of the overall reaction it has been positive. The public is well ahead of the politicians when it comes to medical marijuana and decriminalization. So this is an issue that the public opinion is forming and building, and building towards the right result.

    Around 60% of Democrats support legalization nationwide, about 70% of the highly coveted independent demographic support it, why do you think, by and large, other Democrats and politicians have been hesitant to take up the issue?

    JH: I think it is a mixture of not wanting to lead, not wanting to stick one’s neck out. The old saying in politics is that politicians wait for a parade to form and then run to the front to lead it. Most politicians are risk averse. Many politicians, I think, put their finger up in the air and wait to see which way is the wind is blowing and only when the wind is blowing strongly they move. That’s the normal political animal reaction to issues.

    Quite frankly, I’m not a politician. I ran two state agencies…I got into public policy and public life to make changes and help people’s real lives. I haven’t spent my career climbing up a political ladder, thats not my motivation. My motivation is to address real problems in people’s lives and make people’s lives better. For me, this issue is about doing the right thing. I’m going to do the right thing and I think that it is also going to be smart thing politically.

    Why do you think, so far, Pennsylvania has failed to move forward a medical or decriminalization bill? What will it take for that to happen?

    JH: I think we haven’t had leadership in the governor’s office. The governor has the biggest office, the bully pulpit. It effects how people think about issues, has tremendous influence on legislators. I do know how to get things done in Pennsylvania, we never had a governor to get this done in Pennsylvania. When a governor like me is leading the charge it goes to the top of the priority list. I know how to build public support to get major things done. I built my work in state government going back to Casey admin. I’ve been working on policy getting things done in and out of state government for 29 years.

    Quite frankly Governor Corbett, regardless of his politics, is not competent at the nuts and bolts of governing and has been hostile to marijuana reform. Beating him will send a huge message around the country, winning the primary sends a huge message to Democrats that they need to move [on marijuana reform]. When I win the primary, they are going to understand a major reason for my victory will be marijuana reform.

    What can Pennsylvanians do to help advance marijuana law reform?

    JH: The single best way is to make sure I win the Democratic primary. My candidacy is the equivalent of a marijuana referenda on the ballot. By voting for me you are voting for marijuana reform. Politicians will no longer be able to be on the wrong side of this issue.

    Thats what happens, we can win this issue in May 2014, by my winning that primary. It will shock the political establishment and accelerate the changing of the laws by years in Pennsylvania and around the country. I believe Pennsylvania is seen as a bellwether. If marijuana reform can win in Pennsylvania, it can win anywhere.

    NORML’s constituency group is a great group of people who are fighting for justice and fighting injustice. The great news is that we can win this battle in PA in just 8 months, thats exciting.

    You can read more about John Hanger’s campaign on his website here or Facebook page here. You can read his three step plan for marijuana law reform here.

    (VOTER NOTE: Pennsylvania has closed primaries. If you wish to vote in the Democratic primary in May of 2014, you would have to be registered Democrat before that election. There is no Republican primary this year. The incumbent, Governor Corbett, is running for reelection. Party affiliations can be changed at any time.)

    41 responses to “PA Gubernatorial Candidate John Hanger: Marijuana Reform Can Elect the Next PA Governor”

    1. Ben says:

      F–k yeah.

      The political landscape is changing as the politicians realize the significance of the pro-cannabis voters.

      Much thanks to NORML, and others too…

      Make your votes count!

    2. mexweed says:

      Because the main scare tactic against legalization is to remind everyone of alleged danger to children, I hope Hanger will emphasize the opportunity now at hand to use cannabis to PROTECT children against any need to “experiment” with addiction nicotine $igarettes ($193-bil. per year, USA, medical costs and lost productivity from $igarette addiction; 6,000,000 deaths a year worldwide, calculate from that what figures are relevant for Pennsylvania).

    3. TheOracle says:

      John Hanger said: “There are very important services that are underfunded, but we are spending 350 million dollars enforcing these unjust laws. It means less money for schools, less money for health, less money for roads and bridges. It is destructive to other vital needs in Pennsylvania.”

      Yes, I plan on voting for John Hanger. I live in the Alabama part of Pennsylvania. He hit a lot of buzzwords that resonate well with much of the public: schools, health, roads and bridges. These are all severely underfunded. Philly schools just had to borrow $50 million just to open their doors to students this year. Student loan debt is near the highest in the country because funding of the state colleges and universities kept getting cut, which increased the cost of tuition. Our bridge maximum weights keep getting reduced because we can’t replace them fast enough. Replay that video footage from bridge collapses like that horrible one in Minnesota. I still remember it, but it can’t hurt to remind the public of the chances our current governor Tom Corbett is taking with motorists. More people will be covered under so-called ObamaCare. You have health insurance, right? Well, what if you didn’t? It’s always different when it’s you. Get it?! It costs money, and it’s the right thing to do. People understand saving money and making money and jobs to pay for things the public wants. It’s clear the public does NOT want such things underfunded or eliminated.

      Corbett has failed to find a funding source to fund the programs to provide the quality that the public wants.

      I’m convinced he’s going to use the revolving door once he’s out of office to make money big time off of that tax break he got for Shell out by Pittsburgh. Give a corporation a Billion Dollar tax break while giving the chop to public funding and what do you get? Corbett’s going to want quid pro quo, and it’s going to be something to fill his pockets. The negotiations for Shell involved money so it’s going to be something of value for something of value.

      Get that tv ad stuff going. Get that video footage, and use it. The subtext should always be linked to the meme Where Are You Getting the Money from if you’re Against It? Go for the money grab. Jobs, Money, Funding.

      Whatever you do, though, don’t piss off unions or hunters.

      Be ready for the likes of MomsTell.org’s Sharon Smith and also of former state representative Katie True. Both have suffered the death of a child because of illegal drugs, arguably because of cannabis prohibition. Smith: daughter died of heroin overdose, paints pot as THE gateway drug, yet if there were a separation of soft drugs like cannabis products from hard drugs, then people wouldn’t have to buy cannabis off the same people who are peddling hard drugs. Katie True, I’m not sure about, but I think her son may have been shot as a bystander in gunfire/a crossfire. I certainly understand their anger and fervor, and I do not mean to downplay their losses. We need to try a different way because like every week, especially every weekend there is a shooting in Allentown, Reading, Harrisburg, York, Lancaster, and cities all over the Commonwealth. People like them give very persuasive emotional arguments. True is now an advisor to current Governor Corbett.

      Be ready for the full throttle of the Republican smear machine. You can bet they’ll bring in the big guns, the big money, from inside and outside the state.

      It’s time you got the editorial boards (opinion makers) to come around to Dr. Sanjay Gupta’s way of seeing things.

      Good luck!

    4. Frank says:

      I read the article and now I want to help him be the represent the democrat party. I will change my party affiliation to Democrat so that I can vote for this man. I have not heard anyone so honest and direct about this serious subject …. I am in total agreement with everything I read!

    5. Brandon says:

      I’m registered as a libertarian and am from philly. Just graduated this year and now our school district has gone down the gutter. Corbett doesn’t do jack for philly and nutter doesnt give a crap. I’m switching to democrat ASAP. the money we will save with legalized marijuana alone will bring philly schools back to where they should be. It was hectic when I was in school and now it’ll be worse. F-ck corbett

    6. Demonhype says:

      Okay, this is exciting! More and more politicians (and yes, people running for politics who are not, perhaps, politicians, like Hanger) are willing to speak out in favor of legalization, where the subject was once political suicide! For the first time, standing up against prohibition could be the factor that wins the election, rather than throwing it! I only wish I lived in Pennsylvania so I could vote for this guy!

      As for Drug War cheerleaders like Smith and True: okay, I feel sorry for their loss, but they have the facts wrong in their understandably grief-ravaged brains, and the prohibition misinformation they are spreading, laced with rank emotionalism, is going to cost other people their children. It’s like those people who lost a kid in the war, so they want to keep the war going even when it’s a lost cause so their kid will not have “died in vain”–never mind that continuing to fight a failed war is just going to get other people’s kids killed. I feel for them, I understand their grief, but on some level I can’t help but think of them as ultimately selfish, ignoring the facts and spreading untruths and propping them all up with emotionalism to distract from the fact they don’t have any facts on their side. They’re not just working through their grief, they are using their grief as a weapon that is actually dooming millions of other people, and they don’t care, so long as they get to wallow in their delusions and never face the facts of the matter.

      Sometimes facing the truth can be painful. I get that. But when the overwhelming facts are showing that your position is wrong and is actually causing the harm you wanted to prevent, and the scum drug dealers and drug lords you are trying to avenge your daughter on are actually supporting your efforts at Prohibition–well, at some point you’re going to have to break through the sunk cost mentality and stop trying to fight reality.


    7. Don Berry says:

      Gosh, no jokes or giggles in the interview. I guess that’s only mandatory when the White House addresses the issue.

    8. Human Cannonball says:

      @TheOracle – I hear you, I’m in Northeastern PA and the gun violence/heroin is getting out of hand here.

    9. Elaine says:

      John Hanger will most certainly get my vote!

      To Hell with Gov Corbett!!! It is on his watch that many prohibition atrocities have been committed by this drug war zealot!

    10. Anonymous says:

      I thought Ron Paul was the only honest politician.

      Maybe I was wrong? We can hope. GL my Pennsylvanian Brothers and Sisters!