For the first time, a bipartisan pair of senators introduced a bill that would legalize cannabis for adult use in Pennsylvania. Sens. Dan Laughlin (R) and Sharif Street (D) have drafted legislation that would allow adults 21 and older to purchase and possess cannabis from licensed retailers. The possession limit would be set at 30 grams, and medical marijuana patients would have an option to cultivate up to five plants at home.
Under the proposal, which hasn’t yet been formally introduced, a Pennsylvania Cannabis Regulatory Control Board would be responsible for managing both the medical and recreational programs and issuing marijuana business licenses. Cannabis products would be subject to the state’s six percent sales tax, in addition to a 10 percent excise tax. The revenue would go to a new Cannabis Regulation Fund, as well as a Cannabis Business Development Fund that would provide financial aid, loans, grants, and technical assistance to social and economic equity businesses.
Sen. Sharif Street filed a bill with the Judiciary Committee to decriminalize up to 30 grams of cannabis.
Currently, possession and distribution of 30 grams of cannabis or eight grams of hashish without intent to sell is a misdemeanor punishable by up to 30 days imprisonment and a $500 fine.
Under SB 107, the penalty for possession and distribution would be reduced to a summary offense and a $25 civil fine. The penalty for smoking cannabis in public places would be reduced to a $100 civil fine.
While the measure is an important step in ending the failed polices of the war on drugs, it wouldn’t reduce penalties associated with paraphernalia. The bill has not yet been scheduled for a hearing.
Meanwhile, Pennsylvania cities have been reducing their own marijuana penalties. On August 24, 2020, Upper Darby Township decriminalized simple possession of marijuana, joining Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Harrisburg, Steelton, York, State College, Erie, Lancaster, and Bethlehem. In addition to these cities, 27 states and the District of Columbia have all stopped jailing individuals for possession of small amounts of marijuana.
Ending prohibition is likely to be a multi-year effort. In the meantime, the state should at least stop criminalizing cannabis consumers, especially when black people in Pennsylvania are three times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than white people.
Gov. Wolf says legalization is a priority for 2021 session
Building on the momentum of repeated calls for legalization throughout 2020, Gov. Wolf in his 2021 legislative plan said that, “Pennsylvania has built a successful medical marijuana program” and now “it’s time to take the next step and legalize recreational marijuana in the commonwealth with an emphasis on helping businesses and restorative justice.” Citing “neighbors move[s] toward legalizing recreational marijuana,” Wolf said that Pennsylvania “cannot afford to be left behind.” Gov. Wolf also called for a portion of the tax revenue to support restorative justice programs to help the individuals and communities that have been adversely harmed by the criminalization of marijuana.
Poll shows broad support for legalization
A May 2020 poll found 62% of likely voters in Pennsylvania favor legal, regulated sales of marijuana for adults 21 and older. The survey was commissioned by the Pennsylvania Cannabis Coalition (PCC) and conducted by Harper Polling.
When presented with a choice, 59% of voters said cannabis should be sold through “licensed cannabis dispensaries run by private entrepreneurs” rather than “state-controlled liquor stores.” Majorities of Republicans (58%), Democrats (57%), and independents (69%) agreed.
Medical cannabis in Pennsylvania
Less than two years after the governor signed Act 16into law, dispensaries began selling medical marijuana to patients and caregivers in February 2018. Pennsylvania is expected to be one of the largest medical marijuana markets in the country.
In another exciting development, on May 12, 2018, the Health Department published revised regulations making several important improvements to the medical cannabis program. The regulations allow patient access to medical cannabis flower and expand qualifying conditions — including substitute therapy for opiate addiction. The changes were all recommended by the Medical Marijuana Advisory Board.
MPP has developed a number of fact sheets for Pennsylvania patients, caregivers, doctors, and employers. Please print and share these materials with others, including your physician.