Voices | Feb. 18-25

Image: John Griffin

The Shout out

Researchers at Temple University found a link between the city’s COVID restrictions and rising violence in Philadelphia.

Your turn:

Do you think the level of violence will decrease once things get back to “normal,” or are there other factors to consider?

Send your thoughts to voices@philadelphiaweekly.com.

Mayor’s elimination of Columbus Day a strike against Italian Americans

The Italian-American community in Philadelphia, and indeed across the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and the nation, considers James Kenney’s executive order to eliminate Christopher Columbus Day in Philadelphia to be a calculated strike against the very soul of Italian Americans across this nation. We know that Mr. Kenney and his mayoral staff have been informed by experts in the field, including historian, anthropologist, educator and author Professor Carol Delaney, and professional researcher, attorney and civil rights author Robert F. Petrone, Esquire, that the slanderous lies against Christopher Columbus being a racist / rapist / maimer / murderer / genocidal maniac that have driven the mayor’s executive order are nothing more than myths and political calumny that the primary sources have flatly debunked.

In fact, as Mr. Petrone has pointed out, the primary sources categorically establish that Christopher Columbus was the first civil rights activist of the Americas, consistently and persistently advocating for granting the tribal peoples of the West Indies full rights and protections as Spanish citizens. Christopher Columbus’ civil rights activism included, among a great many other noble deeds:

(1) engaging in the first “underground railroad” of the Americas, rescuing Tainos from capture and enslavement and murder by the Carib and Canib tribes;

(2) prohibiting the enslavement and forced labor of the tribal peoples

of the West Indies by the Spanish nobles who desired them to build their settlements; and

(3) successfully petitioning the crown of Spain to enact the first civil rights legislation of the Americas, forever securing an impregnable decree from the highest authority protecting the indigenes from enslavement or any other mistreatment.

The primary historical sources and the experts have repeatedly demonstrated that Columbus detractors like James Kenney are conflating the villainy and atrocities of Francisco de Bobadilla, Columbus’s arch-nemesis, with Columbus himself, in a masterstroke of ignorance.

Given that James Kenney has been fully informed on countless occasions of what the primary historical sources and the experts who have collectively spent lifetimes studying them have revealed about Columbus as a hero of Western Culture and civil rights – including at public, municipal hearings and by myriad written correspondences – his actions demonstrate more than a willful ignorance of the truth. They demonstrate an unmitigated contempt for Italian-Americans, a purposeful attempt at damnatio memoriae against our people and heritage, and a return to the Italophobia that plagued our nation in the late 19th and early-to-mid 20th centuries.

The United States of America has come too far to regress into the divisiveness, bigotry and ethnic sectarianism that James Kenney’s executive order promotes. Western culture brought the world Judeo Christian ethics and morals, Greco-Roman democracy and law, and the unique idea that all are equal in the eyes of their creator. Its heroes, such as Christopher Columbus, should be recognized and venerated.

The Italian-American community gladly welcomes the establishment of a Tribal People’s Day in Philadelphia, as Christopher Columbus, the greatest advocate of the tribal peoples of the West Indies, would have desired. We demand, however, that such a municipal holiday not replace Columbus Day, but enjoy its own separate day so that the greatest hero of the 15th and 16th centuries, High Admiral and Governor Christopher Columbus, may be honored as he deserves.

The Italian-American community in Philadelphia, in the great Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and across the country, in the interest of our democratic system and our one nation under God, demand that the Kenney administration rescind the executive order to eliminate and rename Christopher Columbus Day. Any failure to do so constitutes a failure by James Kenney to govern morally and democratically, and places him among the liars, villains and misanthropists of history.

Marco Circelli is the executive director of the Filitalia International & Foundation. 

Image: Esteban Lopez 

Why postpone the inevitable when it comes to cannabis?  

There has been a seismic change in the country’s public opinion toward the legalization of adult-use cannabis sales, including here in Pennsylvania. A Franklin & Marshall poll released last fall indicates that 58 percent of Pennsylvania voters support recreational legalization as a political reform whose time has come.   

In his 2021 budget address, Gov. Wolf is once again appealing to the General Assembly to update antiquated policies and legalize sales of adult-use cannabis. Let’s explore why attitudes have changed and why Pennsylvania is in a prime position to build on the success of its experience with medical marijuana.   

An Alternative to Raising Taxes 

While it’s important to stress that marijuana is not meant to be the savior of state budgets, the governor rightly points out that additional tax revenue on legal marijuana sales will help the state fill its coffers, especially in light of COVID-driven deficits. This budget year, policymakers will need to bridge an estimated $2.5 to $3.5 billion budget gap. Considering the unpopularity of proposed tax increases, legalizing adult-use cannabis is a viable option to addressing the economic reality the state is facing. 

And there is no time like the present. New Jersey’s vote on Nov. 3 to legalize recreational sales has doubled-down on the momentum for Pennsylvania to take action or else lose much-needed revenue to its neighbor. Forty percent of Pennsylvanians live within a convenient, 30-minute drive to New Jersey and can easily cross the state line to make their purchases. Efforts to legalize adult-use sales in New York are just around the corner. 

Building on a track record of responsibility and success  

Pennsylvania passed medical marijuana reform in 2016. Ever since then, strong oversight has enabled the industry to build an infrastructure of highly regulated medical marijuana growing and processing facilities along with about 100 dispensaries across the state, and that number is growing. More than 9,000 full-time jobs have been created in less than five years. At a time when record numbers of Pennsylvanians are out of work and seeking unemployment benefits, new job growth would help communities in the four corners of the state and every county in between. 

Terrapin is proud to have received one of the original licenses to operate a medical marijuana facility just outside of Lock Haven. We employ more than 75 Pennsylvanians who grow, process and package medical marijuana here in rural Clinton County. This summer, we invested an additional $6 million in capital improvements in the facility, doubling our capacity and our workforce. 

When faced with COVID-19 in the spring, every state with legal marijuana programs deemed cannabis essential during shutdowns. In Pennsylvania, medical marijuana has been helping Pennsylvanians cope with the anxiety caused by COVID, as well as continue to treat existing conditions. The industry’s response during COVID has further legitimized it as a responsible industry. 

Now Pennsylvania has the opportunity to move safely and quickly to expand into adult-use sales with experienced and socially-responsible operators who are doing business in the state right now. We know from other states that this logical next step delivers reliable results. 

According to Meredith Buettner, executive director, Pennsylvania Cannabis Coalition, “PCC members have the standard operating procedures in place to get the initial adult-use market up and running expeditiously while still prioritizing patients in the medical program. The additional job growth and community investment that accompany the creation of a well-regulated adult-use market are crucial to the Commonwealth in a post COVID-19 environment.”  

Social responsibility is our calling call 

At Terrapin, corporate responsibility drives our business model. We promote programs and policies that emphasize investment, access, and equal opportunity for everybody. As part of our efforts to drive social justice reform, Terrapin helped found the Cannabis Impact Fund, whose mission is to promote racial justice and support underserved communities by leveraging a conscious cannabis sector. Through the Cannabis Impact Fund, Terrapin is helping others learn how to address social equity in the workplace.  

Here in Pennsylvania, Terrapin continues to demonstrate our commitment to veterans, women and minority businesses through our hiring practices, contracts for services, and community support. We are helping to rehab Veteran’s Park in Lock Haven and, each year, we host an educational summit to introduce minority college students to entrepreneurial opportunities in Pennsylvania’s medical marijuana industry.  

Opening the door to collaboration 

Just as we have in other recreational states, the cannabis industry is prepared to work with lawmakers to address legitimate concerns. Our experience has shown that some concerns are unfounded while others can be mitigated through proper regulatory oversight.   

It’s only a matter of time until the disconnect between national and state laws on cannabis is remedied. Under current federal law, cannabis is classified as a Schedule I drug, which means that it is viewed as highly addictive and has no medical value. This classification is even though medical marijuana is legal in 36 states including Washington, D.C., and another 16 states have voted to legalize full, adult use marijuana, including D.C. 

At Terrapin, we are committed to socially responsible cannabis production in all the states where we operate. We are proud of our record of job creation and corporate citizenship. The time is long overdue for a drug policy that modernizes outdated thinking and takes advantage of what we have learned to create well-regulated adult-use programs that benefit all Pennsylvanians.  

Christopher Woods, who was born in Bucks County and graduated with a biomedical engineering degree from Penn State in 2005, is the founder and CEO of Terrapin, one of the original recipients of a Pennsylvania medical cannabis grower/processor license.   

Image: By Gage Skidmore

Censure Toomey? Seriously?

The Republican State Committee has scheduled a special meeting to “consider the issues arising out of the impeachment and the path for our party going forward.”  It is speculated that some action may be taken against Senator Toomey for his vote to convict President Trump. I am a former member of the Republican State Committee rather than a current member, so I don’t have a vote. That being said, I am an active Republican and certainly have an opinion.

First of all, I am unapologetically a Trump supporter. I supported him in both of his elections. I was asked by members of the Trump campaign to run for Alternate Delegate to the Republican National Convention and was endorsed by the Trump campaign. I am an election law lawyer and was engaged by the Trump campaign to work on litigation both in the federal district court and in the U.S. Supreme Court. 

President Trump was an effective president. He was the first President since Reagan to actually decrease the size of government. He fought the bureaucracy and made progress in necessary deregulation. The economy improved beyond Obama’s wildest dreams. The economy is complicated, but anyone who denies that the Trump tax cuts and the confidence that business had in his administration had a major positive impact is just looking through partisan lenses.  Most importantly to me, he remade the federal judiciary, which will benefit us for years to come.

That being said, I did not agree with every policy. I certainly thought that many of his statements and actions were inappropriate and got in the way of what could have been even more progress. You have to make choices, though, and the choice to support President Trump in both elections was actually pretty easy.

I would have voted to acquit President Trump. I would have done so first because I believe that the trial of a former president is unconstitutional (although I understand that there is a split among constitutional scholars on that issue). I watched his speech and believe not only that he was fully within his protected First Amendment rights, but also that nothing in the speech could be construed as an incitement of insurrection. Further, the riot that ensued did not meet the legal definition of an insurrection.  

Do not conclude from this that I felt that President Trump acted appropriately. I was disappointed on many levels in his speech. Not his finest moment. And I feel strongly that every person who pushed through any barrier deserves to spend some number of years in prison. Some should never see the light of day again.

Senator Toomey voted to convict President Trump in his second impeachment trial. He has written an explanation of his vote. While I disagree with his conclusion, his statement was not a snap judgment and was well thought out. I would expect nothing less of Senator Toomey and the man I have followed through his career in Congress.

It would be inappropriate for the Republican State Committee to take action or to censure Senator Toomey. Some are calling the senator a RINO (Republican in name only). Seriously? There is no one – NO ONE – who is as respected and effective in Congress on economic and fiscal issues as Senator Toomey. The only reason that President Trump got his tax cuts passed was because of the senator’s work. He has been a lion fighting for conservative values in financial matters, social issues and national defense. He has done what he said. He self-limited himself to three terms as a congressman and kept his promise. He was one of the few politicians to stand up and call for harsh action against those who looted Philadelphia and assaulted our police officers. Did I agree with him on every issue? Of course not. But on every issue, he never failed to have solid reasons for his vote. 

Another reason to take no action adverse to Senator Toomey is that it is bad politics. How does this action help us win elections? It does not. It does the opposite. Not all Republicans are ever going to agree on every issue. I understand that this is a big issue, but it is not the only matter that we should be concerned about. We can’t govern unless we are elected. Actions such as this simply fracture the party and inevitably lead to electoral losses. With losses come governmental policies that many of those calling for the senator’s head will not like.

I urge the Republican State Committee to walk away from any action on this and focus on winning elections this year.  

Matt Wolfe is a Republican Ward Leader in West Philadelphia

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