In Pennsylvania, marijuana is legal for medical use and recreational marijuana is illegal. However, the possession of up to roughly one ounce of marijuana has been decriminalized in the Cities of Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. Medical marijuana was legalized on April 17, 2016, when Governor Tom Wolf signed Senate Bill 3 into law to become the Medical Marijuana Act. The Act permitted Pennsylvanians to use marijuana with a physician's approval to treat the qualifying medical conditions listed in the bill. Despite the legalization of medical marijuana in 2016, it remained unavailable to patients until February 15, 2018. Based on the Medical Marijuana Act, a state-licensed system for distributing marijuana to patients was set up. Initially, only non-smokable forms of marijuana were allowed, but this was eliminated in 2018. The Medical Marijuana Program was created as a regulatory body for medical marijuana in Pennsylvania. It functions under the Pennsylvania Department of Health to issue permits to medical marijuana organizations.
Aside from the regulatory responsibility of the program, it also has enforcement authority over the cultivation, processing, sale, and use of medical marijuana in the commonwealth. The program makes medical marijuana available to patients with specific medical conditions, although they are required to:
Register with the program through the Medical Marijuana Registry.
Get certified by an approved physician that they suffer from one of the qualifying medical conditions for marijuana.
Make payment for a medical marijuana ID card.
Purchase medical marijuana from an authorized dispensary in Pennsylvania.
As provided by the Medical Marijuana Act, it is mandatory to possess a valid medical marijuana patient or caregiver ID card in Pennsylvania before attempting to purchase medical marijuana. Only original cards will be accepted at the dispensary. Photocopies, screenshots, or other replicas will be denied. When going to a dispensary, be sure to go along with your Pennsylvania state-issued identification card or driver's license. Otherwise, you will not be permitted to enter the dispensary. Only children under the age of 18, if accompanied by an adult with a valid medical card, will be allowed into a dispensary without a patient card or caregiver card. If visiting the dispensary for the first time, prepare for a short consultation with the dispensary staff. There is no law restricting a felon from getting medical marijuana in Pennsylvania, but it is advisable to reach out to the Medical Marijuana Program to inquire about the terms and conditions.
As of July 2021, recreational marijuana is illegal, and its use will attract severe penalties. Many attempts have been made toward medical marijuana legalization in Pennsylvania, but the efforts are yet to yield results. On April 20, 2021, Jeff Riedy of the cannabis advocacy group Lehigh Valley NORML organized a rally to help grow support for the legalization of marijuana. During the rally, it was mentioned that Democrat Sharif Street of Philadelphia and Republican Dan Laughlin of Erie are co-sponsoring a bill legalizing recreational marijuana for adults.
Furthermore, in a bid to legalize recreational marijuana, democratic representatives Jake Wheatley and Dan Frankel plan to initiate legislation. If this is passed, adults aged 21 and older will be allowed to possess up to 28.38 grams of marijuana and 5 grams of a marijuana product in solid, liquid, or concentrated form for personal use. Jake Wheatley mentioned that the legislative proposal would lay the foundation for improving social and economic equity. This would be for individuals and communities that are currently or have previously been adversely affected by the criminalization of marijuana and the strict enforcement of simple marijuana possession laws in marginalized communities. The legislation also proposed a seven-member legislatively appointed panel, the Cannabis Regulatory Control Board, to oversee the marijuana industry across the commonwealth.
Pennsylvania Lieutenant Governor and U.S. Senate candidate John Fetterman also support the legalization of recreational marijuana in the commonwealth. He surveyed residents on the topic in each of the commonwealth's 67 counties in 2019 and revealed in a report to Governor Tom Wolf that as many as 70% of people favor legalization.
September 1, 2022, Governor Tom Wolf and Lt. Governor John Fetterman announced the Pennsylvania Marijuana Pardon Project for offenders that have non-violent marijuana convictions. Applications were accepted through September, until the Board of Pardons voted on each individual case and sent their recommendations to the governor.
Legalizing medical marijuana has positively impacted the Pennsylvania economy through sales, tax revenue, and job creation. Since the legalization of medical marijuana in 2016, the number of dispensaries open for commercial activities has climbed up to over 100. According to the latest report published by the Medical Marijuana Advisory Board, total marijuana sales from growers/processors to dispensaries and from dispensaries to registered patients is up to $6.3 billion ($132 million in 2019). As of November 2022, the state’s medical marijuana program has:
Registered up to 842,021 caregivers and patients (116,000 in 2019)
423,443 active qualifying patients
Approved 1,870 medical practitioners
171 operational dispensaries
$2.5 billion sales from growers/processors to dispensaries
$3.8 billion sales from dispensaries to patients
Tax Revenues: Although medical marijuana is not subject to excise tax, growers and processors are required to pay the 5% medical marijuana gross receipt tax. According to a 2019 state press release, the Department of Revenue received gross receipt taxes amounting to $2 million in February 2019. The tax revenue generated through marijuana sales from growers to dispensaries increased to $160 million in 2021.
Employment: A leafly report shows that the total number of marijuana jobs in Pennsylvania as of 2019 was 3,878. The constant expansion of the marijuana program has been in a bid to make marijuana more accessible to patients that need it for medical purposes, but it has also led to the creation of more job opportunities.
Marijuana Market Potential: The Pennsylvania Auditor General released a report in 2018 titled Regulating and Taxing Marijuana. The report evaluated the potential revenue and financial benefits that will accrue from the legalization of marijuana. In the report, the adult population (21 years+) of Pennsylvania, which was about 9,529,309 in 2016, was the focus. A survey by the Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Administration shows that, between 2015 and 2016, 8.38% of Pennsylvania adults acknowledged being regular marijuana users. Based on these figures, Pennsylvania's current market for regular marijuana users is about 798,556 adults. To calculate the actual revenue generated from sales in Pennsylvania, $2,080, the average amount spent on marijuana by residents of Colorado and Washington in 2016, was used as a case study. Hence, the total sales of marijuana were estimated to be $1,660,996,480 and $580 million worth of taxable revenue for the commonwealth. In addition, a report published by the Philadelphia Inquirer showed that medical marijuana dispensaries grossed $132 million in total sales in 2018 when medical sales began.
Since the legalization of medical marijuana in Pennsylvania in 2016, there has been a consistent decrease in the marijuana crime rate, although there were slight increments in some crimes. According to Pennsylvania's Uniform Crime Report, in 2017, 4,239 residents were arrested for the manufacture and sale of marijuana. Of this number, 86.5% were males, making up 3,667, and 13.5% were females, making up 572. The total number of persons arrested for marijuana possession in 2017 was 24,304. This number comprised 77.1% males, making up 18,746, and 22.9% females, making up 5,558. As with the previous years, there was a slight racial disparity in the arrests for the manufacture and sale of marijuana. Here, Whites constituted 48.6% of the 4,239 residents arrested, Blacks constituted 50.3 of that number, while the remaining 1.1% were from other unspecified races. On the other hand, racial disparity in marijuana possession arrests was more significant. Whites constituted 67.2% of the 24,304 arrested, Blacks constituted 32.1% of that number, and 0.8% were from other unspecified races.
In 2018, there was a 10.5% decrease in the manufacture and sale of marijuana offenses from the previous year, 2017. In contrast, there was a 2.9% increase in the number of marijuana possession offenses from 2017. Based on the report, most of the marijuana crimes were committed by persons aged 25 and over. The number of Driving Under the Influence (DUI) offenses recorded in 2018 was 45,435. Compared to the number of DUIs arrests recorded in 2017, there was a 4.7% decrease. Arrest for marijuana-related offenses in Pennsylvania declined even further in 2021 according to the FBI Crime Data Explorer. The nationwide repository revealed a total of 1,276 arrests in Pennsylvania for illegal marijuana possession and 72 arrests for illegal marijuana sales.
The journey of marijuana in Pennsylvania started quite early. It dates back to when William Penn first founded the commonwealth in 1619. He is most known as the founder of the Province of Pennsylvania, the British North American colony that later became Pennsylvania. Penn specifically established it for farmers to grow hemp upon finding Pennsylvania. Therefore, by 1683, one of the first laws passed under the General Assembly encouraged farmers to grow hemp. Consequently, Pennsylvania manufactured large amounts of the plant in the two years that followed. By 1729, the mass production of hemp led to the creation of the capital of hemp, Hempfield Township, in Lancaster County, which was named for the vast quantities of hemp raised there. This continued in Pennsylvania well into the late 1930s when the perception of hemp gradually became altered with the Reefer Madness scare. As a result of this, Governor Gifford Pinchot signed a law banning marijuana in Pennsylvania in 1933.
Regardless, quite a number of farmers continued to grow hemp because their farms had grown the plant for years, and at that time, there was no way to differentiate between industrial hemp and cannabis. This led to many farmers being arrested for continuing to grow hemp plants. However, the perception of marijuana changed again when some local governments began approving measures to reduce marijuana penalties.
Finally, on April 17, 2016, Governor Tom Wolf signed Senate Bill 3 to legalize medical marijuana. This made Pennsylvania the 24th state to legalize cannabis for medical use. Senate Bill 3 passed the House by a 149 - 46 vote and the Senate by 42 - 7. The Bill became the Medical Marijuana Act, which authorized the use of cannabis with a physician's approval for treatment of qualifying conditions. With the enactment of the Medical Marijuana Act, a 5% tax rate was imposed on sales between growers, processors, and dispensaries. The first licensed sales occurred on February 15, 2018, when dispensaries became open to the public. The majority of Pennsylvania voters, 56%, support legislation that legalizes recreational marijuana, according to a 2017 Franklin & Marshall College Poll. Franklin and Marshall had examined the issue for more than a decade, and 2017 was the first time most respondents supported legalization. This indicated a growing cultural acceptance of marijuana use.
On October 24, 2018, Governor Wolf signed House Bill 163 into law to revoke a policy known as "Smoke a joint, lose your license." Under this policy, the possession of marijuana or any other illegal drug attracted a penalty of a mandatory six-month driver's license suspension. State Representative Rick Saccone sponsored House Bill 163, which passed with only one opposing vote in the House and unanimously in the Senate.
In December 2018, during a Q&A session with his constituents on Twitter, Governor Wolf tweeted that he thinks it is time for Pennsylvania to take a serious and honest look at legalizing recreational marijuana. A month later, Wolf announced a statewide listening tour by Lieutenant-Governor John Fetterman, which aimed to gather public input on the idea. A final report presenting the results of the listening tour was published on September 25, 2019. It showed that among the more than 10,000 people that attended the listening tour, 68% supported recreational marijuana legalization. Also, there was almost total support for the decriminalization of marijuana. This led to the governor and lieutenant governor calling for three actions to be taken by the state legislature. This included:
Passage of legislation to expunge prior marijuana convictions
Passage of legislation to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana
Deliberate consideration of legislation to legalize marijuana for recreational use
At the press conference where the result of the listening tour was announced, Governor Wolf made known, for the first time, his support for legalizing the recreational use of marijuana.
Again in September 2020, Wolf and Fetterman attempted to legalize marijuana. Together with a representative from NORML, they held a press conference to further call for the legislature to act. Another press conference in Monroe County was held to make a third call for legalization in the commonwealth on October 13, 2020. However, as of July 2021, recreational marijuana remains illegal in Pennsylvania.