Gov. Shapiro calls for cannabis legalization in 2023-2024 budget request
On March 7, 2023, Gov. Shapiro released his executive budget which proposes a 20 percent tax “on the wholesale price of [marijuana] products sold through the regulated framework of the production and sales system, once legalized.”
The budget assumes sales begin on January 1, 2025, and estimates that the Pennsylvania would generate roughly $16 million in cannabis tax revenue that year, increasing to $64 million in 2026, $132.6 million in 2027 and $188 million in 2028.
While Gov. Shapiro’s proposed budget includes expected revenue from legalization, it does not contain any provisions to actually effectuate the policy change. That will be up to legislators.
Several representatives have begun to circulated sponsorship memos about legalization proposals. With Democrats winning control of the House and Governor's office in the 2022 elections, optimism remains high for legalization in the Keystone state.
Gov. Wolf announces Pennsylvania Marijuana Pardon Project
On September 1, 2022, Gov. Tom Wolf and Lt. Gov. John Fetterman announced the start of the Pennsylvania Marijuana Pardon Project. The initiative is a “coordinated effort for a one-time, large-scale pardoning project for people with select minor, non-violent marijuana criminal convictions." Anyone with convictions for Possession of Marijuana (Title 35 Section 780-113 Subsection A31), and/or, Marijuana, Small Amount Personal Use (Title 35 Section 780-113 Subsection A31I) can apply for a free accelerated pardon through this one-time project. View the online application for a pardon here. The deadline to apply is September 30.
Once a person submits their application, they will be contacted if any necessary follow-up is needed. On October 13, the Board of Pardons will conduct merit-based reviews with votes taken December 13-16, 2022. The Board of Pardons recommendations will then be sent to the governor for a pardon. A pardon is an act by the governor that acts as forgiveness for a conviction from your criminal record. However, once an applicant receives their pardon, they still must petition the court where their conviction took place for an expungement of the conviction from their record.
Pennsylvania legislature passes banking and insurance reform bill
On July 1, 2022, the House advanced a bill that would protect banks and insurers from state penalties for working with licensed medical marijuana businesses. The legislation, which already passed the Senate, was approved on a 173-23 vote.
The legislation states that a “financial institution authorized to engage in business in this Commonwealth may provide financial services to or for the benefit of a legitimate cannabis-related business and the business associates of a legitimate cannabis-related business.” The same protections will also be codified for insurers. Additionally, the bill states that state government agencies cannot “prohibit, penalize or otherwise discourage a financial institution or insurer from providing financial or insurance services to a legitimate cannabis-related business or the business associates of a legitimate cannabis-related business.” It also says agencies cannot “recommend, incentivize or encourage a financial institution or insurer” to not provide services just because a business is associated with marijuana.
The measure now heads to Gov. Tom Wolf's desk for signature.
Pennsylvania Senate approves Medical Marijuana DUI protections
On June 28, 2022, the Senate Transportation Committee reported out SB 167. The measure, sponsored by Sen. Camera Bartolotta (R) would require law enforcement officials to show proof of actual impairment in order to charge a medical marijuana patient with driving under the influence. Under current law, medical cannabis patients risk being charged with driving under the influence for any amount of cannabis detected in their blood while operating a motor vehicle. As a result, the thousands of medical patients risk arrest and prosecution every time they get behind the wheel. In 2020, an amendment fixing Pennsylvania's discriminatory DUI law passed the House but failed to be enacted. SB 167 now heads to the Senate floor for a full vote.
SB 167 now heads to the Senate floor where it awaits a floor vote.
Pennsylvania lawmakers conclude series of adult-use hearings
On March 14, 2022, the Senate Law and Justice Committee concluded the last of three hearings examining various issues around potential cannabis legalization in the Commonwealth. The hearings were an offspring from a cosponsor memo circulated last year by Committee Chair Sen. Mike Regan (R) and Rep. Aman Brown (D).
The first hearing held in early February focused on the issue of whether a regulated market would be sufficient to eliminate legacy market sales, how police would be affected, and the potential impacts of impaired driving. The second hearing held in late February examined potential tax, and the third and final hearing centered on regulatory structures that other legalized states have adopted. The hearings are significant as they mark the first hearings by a legislative panel on the issue of adult-use cannabis in the Republican-controlled Pennsylvania General Assembly.
Pennsylvania state representatives file equity-focused legalization proposal
On September 28, 2021, Rep. Jake Wheatley (D) and Rep. Dan Frankel (D) introduced HB2050. The details of the bill were outlined in the co-sponsorship memo circulated amongst lawmakers. Under the proposal, adults 21 and older would be able to purchase and possess up to an ounce of cannabis. People could receive a permit for home cultivation to grow up to three mature and three immature plants.
Individuals with marijuana convictions would have their records automatically expunged, and those currently incarcerated over cannabis offenses made legal under the measure would be released.
A 13% excise tax would be imposed on marijuana sales, with 15% of revenue going to community reinvestment, 15% to substance misuse treatment programs, and 70% for the state general fund.
Those from communities most impacted by cannabis criminalization, as well as veterans, would be prioritized to receive business licenses.
The state Departments of Revenue, Agriculture, and Health and the attorney general’s office would be responsible for overseeing and regulating aspects of the program.
Pennsylvania lawmakers pass medical marijuana improvement legislation
On June 30, 2021, Governor Wolf signed P.L. 210 into law, making several improvements to Pennsylvania’s medical cannabis program. P.L. 210 (otherwise known as HB 1024) was sponsored by Rep. Paul Schemel (R-Franklin) and acts on recommendations made by the Department of Health to revise the Medical Marijuana Act, which was signed into law in 2016.
The proposal most notably allows patients to purchase three times as much cannabis as they previously could, and it removes language that steered chronic pain patients to try more dangerous painkillers first. P.L. 210 also narrows the restriction on people with past drug convictions working in or owning medical cannabis businesses. It protects patient safety standards and the product quality of Pennsylvania’s medical marijuana program while also empowering the Medical Marijuana Advisory Board to continue to consider new medical conditions for eligibility. It will also retain certain flexibilities enacted under the state’s COVID-19 disaster declaration that patients and dispensaries found improved safe access. You can check out a summary of P.L. 210 here and a full summary of Pennsylvania’s medical marijuana law here.
Less than two years after the governor signed Act 16into law, dispensaries began selling medical marijuana to patients and caregivers in February 2018. 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.
On February 24, 2021, Sen. Sharif Street (D) and Sen. Dan Laughlin (R) introduced bipartisan legislation to legalize adult-use marijuana in Pennsylvania. The proposal prioritizes safety, community reinvestment, social and economic equity, and agriculture and creates vital tax revenue streams for the Commonwealth.
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.
Senator files decriminalization bill
On January 22, 2021, 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 policies 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.
To stay updated on the status of marijuana policy reform in Pennsylvania, be sure to subscribe to MPP's alerts, if you haven't done so already.
Last week, the 2022 session for Pennsylvania’s legislature began. Last year saw several legalization and decriminalization proposals, but none received a hearing or were called for a vote. Luckily, many of the 2021 proposals have carried over to 2022, which presents another opportunity to enact sensible, humane cannabis policy before the session adjourns in November.