After seeing record medical marijuana sales in the last few years, it seems like an easy choice for Pennsylvania to finally legalize recreational use this year. Last February, a bipartisan bill seeking to decriminalize and legalize adult-use cannabis was filed by senators Sharif Street (D-Philadelphia) and Dan Laughlin (R-Erie) who said that the legislation could bring the state an estimated $1 billion in tax revenue.
According to Sen. Street’s website, the Laughlin-Street Bipartisan Adult Use Marijuana Legalization Bill also aims to establish a regulated marijuana industry that will generate new jobs and promote social and economic equity reforms, among others. It will also give qualified patients in the state the right to grow up to five plants at home.
The bill may have a good fighting chance of getting signed into law this year. While the measure will have to get through a Republican-controlled legislature, this is also the first time a Republican co-sponsored a recreational marijuana legalization bill. Sen. Laughlin had previously been opposed to recreational cannabis but recently changed his position, saying that “As the marijuana movement reaches Pennsylvania, legalization must be done the right way.” The senator even clarified that the move to legalize is “just following the will of the people,” and is not designed specifically to raise revenue. Recent poll results seem to support this since in May last year, as much as 62% of Pennsylvania voters were ok with the idea of legal sales of adult-use marijuana in the state.
Once the bill clears its hurdles in the legislature, it is practically a done deal since Gov. Tom Wolf made it clear in his budget address that legalization is one of his priorities for this year. The governor remarked that his state “cannot get left behind” after it’s neighbor New Jersey completely legalized marijuana in last year’s elections.
Overview of Pennsylvania Marijuana Laws
While recreational marijuana is still illegal in the Keystone State, it is said that its lax medical marijuana law has made cannabis legal for practically everybody.
- Possession – Simple possession is a misdemeanor in Pennsylvania but first convictions are eligible for conditional release. Subsequent offenses may get twice the penalty.
- Up to 30 g – prison sentence of up to 30 days and a maximum fine of $500
- More than 30 g – prison sentence of up to one year and a maximum fine of $5000
- Distribution of up to 30 g without remuneration – a misdemeanor punishable by a prison sentence of up to 30 days and a maximum fine of $500
- Selling more than 30 g – a felony punishable by a prison sentence of 2.5 to 5 years and a $15,000 fine for a first offense.
- Delivery within 1,000 ft of a school or within 250 ft. of a playground – 2 to 4 years in prison.
- Distribution to a minor – a felony with double the penalties upon conviction.
- Cultivation – Illegally growing marijuana in Pennsylvania, specifically possession with intent to deliver less than 10 plants is a felony.
- Any amount – a prison sentence of 2.5 to 5 years and a $15,000 fine for a first offense.
History of Marijuana in Pennsylvania
Sen. Laughlin recently remarked that “Pennsylvania has virtually already legalized marijuana through the medical program. All you have to say is that you have a bad back and you’re in.”
This aptly describes the state of marijuana in Pennsylvania, which has gotten on fairly well without legalizing recreational marijuana since Gov. Tom Wolf signed SB 3 back in 2016. Today, the state’s medical cannabis market is already one of the biggest in the nation.
Although SB 3 allowed patients with any of the 17 qualifying conditions to use cannabis upon the approval of their physician, it initially only permitted the sales of non-smokable forms of marijuana. This restriction was removed in 2018 and substitute therapy for opiate addiction was also added as a qualifying condition. However, home cultivation of any kind remained illegal.
Gov. Wolf, who is an ardent marijuana supporter, also signed into law HB 163 which repealed the Solomon–Lautenberg amendment, a federal law enacted in 1990 that called for the suspension of the driver’s license of anyone who commits a drug offense, regardless if a motor vehicle was involved in the offense.
Aside from the legalization bill co-sponsored with Sen. Laughlin, Sen. Street also introduced earlier this year SB 107, a decriminalization bill that will lower simple possession and distribution to a summary offense punishable by a $25 civil fine. It will also bring down the penalty for smoking marijuana in public to a $100 civil fine. It is worth noting that a number of municipalities have already decriminalized several years before the introduction of this bill. Philadelphia was the first one in 2014 to reduce the penalty of possession of up to 30 grams to a $25 fine. Pittsburgh followed in 2015, Harrisburg down to a $75 fine and State College $250 in 2016, York down to $100 in 2017, Erie down to $25 while Allentown, Bethlehem, and Lancaster the same amount for the first offense in 2018. Steelton set the fine at $25 to $100 on the first offense in 2019, while just last year, Delaware County set its fine at $50 and Carlisle at $25.
Marijuana home cultivation laws outside of Pennsylvania
How does Pennsylvania’s marijuana laws compare with home growing laws in other US states? Check out our post on Marijuana Growing Laws in the United States.
FAQs about marijuana legalization in Pennsylvania
Adult-use cannabis is still illegal in Pennsylvania.
None. Home cultivation of recreational cannabis is not yet allowed in Pennsylvania.
Medical marijuana has been made legal in Pennsylvania since 2017.
A bipartisan bill that seeks to legalize recreational marijuana was filed earlier this year by Sen. Sharif Street (D) and Sen. Dan Laughlin (R). The bill seeks to establish a regulated marijuana industry that also includes provisions that will promote social and economic equity reforms, and give qualified patients in the state the right to grow up to five plants at home.
Sen. Street also filed a decriminalization bill, SB 107, which seeks to reduce simple possession and distribution to a summary offense punishable by a $25 civil fine. It will also lower the penalty for smoking marijuana in public to a $100 civil fine.
None yet since it is still illegal to cultivate cannabis for medical or recreational purposes in Pennsylvania.
Pennsylvania residents are not yet allowed to cultivate marijuana at home.
Growing marijuana in Pennsylvania is still illegal for residents of all ages.
Opponents of marijuana in Pennsylvania might as well wave the white flag as early as this year since the state seems to be destined to legalize this year. Not like there’s a big opposition in the state, since polls have suggested that as much as 70% of voters already support adult-use cannabis. Since the bill is bipartisan, it is also expected to draw some support from Republicans, which is a major step forward. However, state party leaders have reportedly expressed their opposition to the idea, saying that Gov. Wolf should not be trying to legalize a drug during an opioid crisis. Nevertheless, external pressure is mounting and soon enough, Pennsylvania will be surrounded by neighbors with burgeoning recreational marijuana industries which will draw tax revenue away and cause law enforcement problems if the state fails to update its marijuana laws.