Pennsylvania Marijuana Laws

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Is Marijuana Legal in Pennsylvania?

Marijuana became legal for medical use in Pennsylvania on April 17, 2016, but as of July 2021, the state is yet to legalize recreational marijuana. Despite this, the Cities of Philadelphia and Pittsburgh have decriminalized the possession of not more than one ounce of marijuana. The legalization of medical marijuana occurred when Governor Tom Wolf signed Senate Bill 3 into law. The Medical Marijuana Act authorizes the legalization of medical marijuana. According to the Act, registered patients in Pennsylvania can use medical marijuana with a registered physician's approval to treat any qualifying medical conditions listed in the bill. Minors with serious medical conditions can also acquire medical marijuana for treatment, but they cannot get it directly from the dispensaries. Minors can only get medical marijuana through their caregivers, who must be registered with the medical marijuana program. Patients with valid medical cards for medical marijuana can possess up to a 90-day supply of marijuana. Patients may also purchase marijuana flowers but smoking it is illegal. Patients may consume it by vaporization instead of smoking it.

The law does not specify the quantity of marijuana that can be purchased. It instead allows registered pharmacists at licensed dispensaries to recommend the type and quantity of marijuana products patients should purchase. Patients may only possess a 90-day supply of marijuana, as recommended by a pharmacist. If they are found with medical marijuana exceeding the amount prescribed, they could face criminal penalties. Likewise, all patients must register under the state's medical marijuana program. Any unregistered patient found with medical marijuana will face criminal penalties.

Can I Use Cannabis?

Pennsylvanians can use cannabis in the state legally only to treat any of the qualifying medical conditions. Patients sick with any qualifying medical conditions must register with the Pennsylvania Medical Marijuana Program to get valid medical marijuana cards. Patients who do not possess valid medical marijuana cards will not be authorized to use cannabis. Minors can also use medical cannabis. However, minors must be accompanied by their caregivers, who must also possess valid medical marijuana cards. As of July 2021, recreational marijuana is illegal, and its use will attract severe penalties.

Prior to the legalization of medical cannabis in Pennsylvania, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration classified cannabis as a Schedule 1 drug. Drugs under this category are not accepted for medical use, as they have a high potential for abuse. Even now, cannabis is still classified as a Schedule 1 drug at the federal level. The criminalization of cannabis began after the establishment of the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937 when cannabis was banned across the country. However, Americans' perception of marijuana started to change around the mid-1970s, and some states began to lighten penalties for marijuana possession. As of July 2021, 29 states, including Pennsylvania, have legalized medical marijuana.

Pennsylvania Marijuana Laws in 2021

The Medical Marijuana Act enacted in 2016 is the law guiding the legalization of marijuana in Pennsylvania. Here are the most recent amendments of the law made in June 2021:

  • Section 405 - Duration: A patient or caregiver may obtain up to a 90-day supply of individual doses of medical marijuana from a dispensary. Seven days before the end of any 30-day period, during the identification card's term, a patient may acquire a 90-day supply for the succeeding authorized period.

  • Section 502 B - Criminal history: A person newly registering as a caregiver under this section shall submit their fingerprints to the Pennsylvania State Police or its authorized agent for a criminal history background check. After this, the fingerprints will be submitted to the Federal Bureau of Investigation to verify the applicant's identity and obtain a current criminal history record. The Pennsylvania Department of Health will use this solely to determine the applicant's character, fitness, and eligibility to serve as a caregiver under this act. The DOH shall deny the application of a caregiver who has been convicted of a crime involving the illegal possession or sale of drugs, narcotics, or controlled substances within the past five years. The DOH shall also review the prescription drug monitoring program of the caregiver and deny the application of an applicant who has been previously convicted of a crime involving drug abuse crime or diversion of controlled substances or illegal drugs.

  • Section 609 - Relocation: The DOH may approve a medical marijuana organization's application to relocate within Pennsylvania or add or delete activities or facilities. Regardless, a dispensary may interchange the designation of a primary, secondary or tertiary location at any time, including the time before the location becomes operational. However, a written notice must be submitted to the department at least 14 days before the change in designation.

  • Section 614 - Convictions prohibited: The law restricts financial backers, principals, and employees from holding volunteer positions or positions with remuneration, including clinical registrant positions, if they have been previously convicted of certain crimes. These crimes include felonies related to the production, delivery, or possession with intent to manufacture or deliver a controlled substance that violates the Controlled Substance, Drug, Device, and Cosmetic Act or similar law.

However, ex-convicts may be exempted from the law if:

  • At least 10 years have passed since the final disposition of the felony convictions mentioned above; or

  • One year has passed since their release from imprisonment for the felony conviction.

  • Section 701 (c.1) - Application programming interface: The section on electronic tracking was amended to include the application programming interface. This implies that the DOH or the DOH's contracted seed-to-sale vendor shall enable two-way automation, communication, and application-programming interface of a medical marijuana organization's enterprise software with the software of the DOH or their contracted seed-to-sale vendor. The software could be software for resource planning, inventory, accounting, and point-of-sale.

  • Section 702 - Grower/processors: This section redefines the roles and limitations of a grower/processor.

  • Section 703 - Storage and transportation (8): This section was amended to include the requirements to use any electronic tracking system the department requires to enable two-way communication, automation, and application programming interface. This will be between a medical marijuana company's enterprise resource planning, inventory, accounting, and point-of-sale software and the software of the DOH or the DOH's vendor.

  • Section 704 - Laboratory: Independent laboratories shall be contacted to test the medical marijuana produced by the grower/processor. The DOH shall approve a laboratory and mandate the laboratory to report testing results as specified by the department. These tests may include a test at harvest and a test at final processing. The possession by a medical marijuana laboratory shall be a lawful use.

A laboratory shall also conduct stability testing to verify the medical marijuana product's efficacy and purity. A grower/processor shall keep a sample from all medical marijuana products gotten from a harvest batch. They are to request that an approved laboratory identifies and gathers samples from each process to perform stability testing under these two conditions:

  • The stability testing is done every six months for the expiration date listed on the medical marijuana product and once within 6 months of expiration.

  • The medical marijuana product is still in inventory at a dispensary in Pennsylvania, as determined by the seed-to-sale system.

  • Section 801 - Dispensing to patients and caregivers (b): The requirements for dispensing to patients and caregivers are stated in this section. A dispensary will be required to have a physician or a pharmacist available to verify patients' certifications and consult with them at all times during the dispensary's work hours. If a dispensary has more than one distinct location, a certified registered nurse practitioner or physician assistant may verify patients' certifications and consult with them in person or by synchronous interaction. The synchronous interaction will be at other individual locations in place of the physician or pharmacist. A physician, physician assistant, pharmacist, or certified registered nurse practitioner must have successfully completed the four-hour training course established in section 301(a)(6). A physician cannot issue a certification to authorize patients to receive medical marijuana or treat patients at the dispensary

  • Section 802 - Facility requirements: A dispensary may dispense medical marijuana in an indoor, enclosed, secure facility located within the state or in compliance with a curbside delivery protocol specified by the department. A dispensary is required to maintain continuous video surveillance and retain the recordings onsite or offsite for at least 180 days unless needed for investigative or litigation.

  • Section 902 - Medical Marijuana Program Fund: The department shall refund from the taxes, fees, and investment earnings of the fund to the general fund, any money allocated for the initial planning, organization, and administration by the department regarding the program's establishment at the time of the original enactment of this act.

  • Section 1107 - Temporary regulations: The department's authority to adopt temporary regulations to facilitate the prompt implementation of the act shall expire on May 31, 2022. Regulations adopted after this period shall be published as provided by law.

  • Section 1301 - Criminal diversion of medical marijuana by practitioners: This section provides that a practitioner commits a misdemeanor of the first degree if they deliberately or recklessly provide medical marijuana to an ineligible person or certify an ineligible person as being eligible to receive medical marijuana lawfully.

  • Section 1307 - Disclosure of information prohibited: An employee, operator, financial backer, or principal of any of the following will be guilty of a misdemeanor of the third degree if they disclose any information on the use of medical marijuana, except to an authorized person for official governmental or health care purposes:

  • A medical marijuana organization

  • An employee or contractor of the department

  • A health care medical marijuana establishment or university participating in a research study under Chapter 19

  • An academic clinical research center or clinical registrant or under Chapter 20

The exceptions do not apply where disclosure is permitted or required by law or by court order. The department or an authorized employee obtaining information under this act shall not be subject to criminal liability. The immunity this subsection provides does not apply to an employee of the department who deliberately discloses prohibited information under this act.

  • Section 2002 - Clinical registrants: This section was amended to authorize the department to approve up to 10 clinical registrants, wherein each clinical registrant may provide medical marijuana at up to six separate locations. The total number of locations permitted to dispense medical marijuana under this section shall not be more than 60. The dispensary and grower/processor permits issued to approved clinical registrants under this section shall be along with the 25 grower/processor permits and 50 dispensary permits. The limitations on number and location in sections 616(1) and (2) and 603(d) do not apply. A clinical registrant is only allowed to hold one grower/processor and dispensary permit. Once the department certifies an entity as a clinical registrant, the entity shall comply with this chapter. The department shall:

  • Open applications to approve up to two additional academic clinical research centers and issue approvals to certified academic clinical research centers within 90 days of the effective date of this paragraph.

  • Open applications to approve up to two additional clinical registrants within 120 days of the effective date and issue permits to qualified clinical registrants within 180 days from when applications are posted.

Suppose the maximum legal number of licensed academic clinical research centers or approved clinical registrants are not approved. In that case, the department will reopen the application process to approve academic clinical research centers and clinical registrants. The department shall not license an applicant for a grower/processor permit if the applicant has had a contractual relationship with an academic clinical research center in the past.

How the Legal Sale of Cannabis in Pennsylvania Happens

Only state-licensed dispensaries are permitted to sell cannabis in Pennsylvania. Purchasing cannabis from random vendors in the black market is illegal and will attract criminal penalties. Cannabis dispensaries are required to apply for licenses from the state to authorize them to sell marijuana. A dispensary license costs $5,000

Patients aged 21 and over can purchase up to 90 days supply of medical marijuana by visiting the licensed dispensaries and presenting their state medical marijuana ID cards for specific conditions and state-issued identification cards. They may also purchase medical marijuana through their registered caregivers. Minors can use medical marijuana, but they are not allowed to buy it in person. They can only get medical marijuana through their caregivers. Home delivery of marijuana is possible, but the delivery person would be required to pay $50 annually for a permit.

The types of medical marijuana that are legal for sale in the state are pills, extracts, liquids, gels, tinctures, creams, ointments, and flowers. CBD oils that contain less than 0.3 percent THC are legal and can be purchased, while the sale of hash and concentrates and marijuana paraphernalia are not legal. Dispensaries in Pennsylvania accept only cash payments. However, some may accept payment with debit cards in exchange for a minimal ATM fee, while others have ATMs on site. It is advisable to contact the local dispensary to confirm the acceptable payment options before visiting it.

Penalties for Marijuana-related crimes in Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania authorizes the cultivation, possession, consumption, and sale of medical marijuana within the limits of the law. Violating a marijuana law may attract a criminal penalty such as a jail term, fine, and even the confiscation of assets. While adults aged 21 and over can purchase and consume medical marijuana if they have any qualifying medical condition, minors registered under the medical marijuana program can only purchase it through their caregivers. Pennsylvania maintains strict regulations concerning the use of marijuana. Marijuana-related crimes and their penalties are.

Possession

Recreational marijuana is entirely illegal in Pennsylvania and cannot be possessed. Medical marijuana, on the other hand, is legal in the state, and registered patients can possess up to 90 days supply of possession of marijuana. However, possessing more than 90 days' supply will attract a charge. Possession charges are as follows:

  • Possessing 30 grams or less of flower or 8 grams or less of hashish is a misdemeanor punishable with 30 days in jail, a $500 fine, or both.
  • Possession of above 30 grams of flower or above 8 grams of hashish is a misdemeanor attracting a maximum penalty of 6 – 12 months incarceration and a $5,000 fine. For a second-time or subsequent offense, the maximum penalty is a $25,000 fine and a maximum of 18 – 36 months incarceration.

An offender caught possessing marijuana may be eligible for conditional release, wherein the offender will be put on probation for up to a year instead of jail time.

Possession with Intent to Distribute

The distribution of marijuana without a state license is a crime. The charges for the possession with intent to distribute marijuana include:

  • Distributing 30 grams or less of marijuana without payment is a misdemeanor punishable by a maximum of 30 days in jail and a fine of up to $500.
  • The sale of more than 30 grams is a felony punishable with 2 and half years to 5 years imprisonment and a $15,000 fine for a first offense.
  • Delivering marijuana within 1,000 feet of a school or 250 feet of a recreational playground is punishable by 2 - 4 years imprisonment.

An adult aged 21 and over who distributes marijuana to a minor will be charged with a felony and will face double the regular penalties upon conviction.

Cultivation

Growing marijuana in Pennsylvania is only permitted if the grower/processor license is obtained. The Pennsylvania Senate blocked the medical marijuana home cultivation amendment in June 2021. Hence, home cultivation remains a crime in the state even if there is no intention of selling it. It is punishable by 2 and half years to 5 years imprisonment and a $15,000 fine. According to the Pennsylvania Sentencing Guidelines, possession with intent to deliver less than 10 plants is a felony.

Marijuana Paraphernalia

The possession or sale of marijuana paraphernalia is a misdemeanor punishable with a maximum jail term of 6 to 12 months and a maximum fine of $2,500. Delivering paraphernalia to a minor at least 3 younger is a second-degree misdemeanor punishable by a maximum fine of 2 years and a maximum fine of $5,000.

Hash and Concentrates

Hashish is classified as a Schedule I drug. Possessing 8 grams or less is a misdemeanor and will attract a penalty of 30 days jail time and a $ 500 fine. The possession of more than 8 grams is a misdemeanor punishable by up to 1-year imprisonment and a $5,000 fine. Manufacturing hashish is a felony punishable by 2 and half years to 5 years imprisonment and a $15,000 fine. Subsequent convictions for manufacturing hashish are punishable by a maximum fine of $30,000, up to 10 years imprisonment, or both.

Driving Under the Influence of Marijuana

The Pennsylvania legislature criminalizes driving while a cannabis metabolite is present in the operator's system, even if there is no impairment. A cannabis metabolite (THC) can linger in a person's system for a few weeks after ingestion. A presumptive test to determine whether a specimen contains a controlled substance or a metabolite of a controlled substance may involve screening the blood specimen using a rapid, inexpensive procedure. A second test will also be conducted to ascertain the minimum threshold for THC or its metabolites. According to the April 30, 2011 edition of the Pennsylvania Bulletin, any amount at or above one nanogram per milliliter can be introduced in a proceeding for a marijuana DUI. However, this is not enough ground to convict for offenses requiring impairment; actual impairment must be shown.

The penalties are in three levels; these are:

  • First offense - Misdemeanor

  • Imprisonment of between 72 consecutive hours and 6 months

  • Fine of at least $1000, but not more than $5000

  • Alcohol highway safety school

  • License suspension of at least 18 months

  • Completion of 150 hours of community service

  • Attend a victim impact panel

  • Second offense - Misdemeanor

  • Imprisonment of between 90 days hours and 6 months

  • Fine of at least $1500, but not more than $5000

  • Alcohol highway safety school

  • License suspension of at least 18 months

  • Completion of 150 hours of community service

  • Attend a victim impact panel

  • Third and subsequent offense - 2nd-degree misdemeanor

  • At least one year imprisonment

  • Fine of at least $2500, but not more than $5000

  • License suspension of at least 18 months

  • Completion of 150 hours of community service

  • Attend a victim impact panel

Problem-Solving Courts across the state may provide possible remedies for defendants violating Pennsylvania marijuana laws.

What is Pennsylvania's Cannabis History?

William Penn, founder of the Province of Pennsylvania, in 1619 championed the legalization of cannabis in the 17th century. The main idea behind establishing the province was for farmers to grow hemp. Hence, in 1683, one of the first laws passed under the General Assembly encouraged farmers to grow hemp, making Pennsylvania a large plant manufacturer in the two years that followed. In 1729, Hempfield Township, Lancaster County, was created as the capital of hemp due to the mass production of hemp. Hemp remained legal until the late 1930s, when the perception of hemp gradually became altered with the Reefer Madness scare. Consequently, Governor Gifford Pinchot signed a law banning marijuana in Pennsylvania in 1933.

Towards the end of the 20th century, the perception of marijuana changed again, and some local governments began approving measures to reduce marijuana penalties. Eventually, Governor Tom Wolf signed Senate Bill 3 to legalize medical marijuana on April 17, 2016, which 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 Medical Marijuana Act was birthed from this Bill, and it authorized the use of cannabis with a physician's approval for treatment of qualifying conditions. It also imposed a 5% tax rate on sales between growers, processors, and dispensaries. On February 15, 2018, the state recorded its first licensed sales when dispensaries became open to the public.

According to a 2017 Franklin & Marshall College Poll, a larger number of Pennsylvania voters, 56%, supported the legalization of recreational marijuana after examining the issue for more than a decade.State Representative Rick Saccone sponsored House Bill 163, and it passed with only 23 opposing votes in the House and unanimously in the Senate. Governor Wolf signed House Bill 163 into law to revoke a policy known as "Smoke a joint, lose your license" on October 24, 2018. Per the policy, possessing marijuana or any other illegal drug warranted a mandatory six-month driver's license suspension.

Governor Wolf announced a statewide listening tour by Lieutenant-Governor John Fetterman in January 2019, which aimed to gather public input on the idea. On September 25, 2019, the results of the listening tour were published in a report. The results showed that among the more than 10,000 people that attended the listening tour, 68% supported the legalization of recreational marijuana. In addition, almost total support for the decriminalization of marijuana was recorded. Consequently, the governor and the lieutenant governor called for three actions to be taken by the state legislature, including:

  • Intentional consideration of legislation to legalize marijuana for recreational use
  • Passage of legislation to expunge prior marijuana convictions
  • Passage of legislation to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana

Furthermore, for the first time, Governor Wolf declared his support for legalizing the recreational use of marijuana at the press conference where the result of the listening tour was announced. After this, several other attempts through press conferences have been made to legalize marijuana in Pennsylvania, but as of July 2021, recreational marijuana remains illegal in Pennsylvania.

What are Restrictions on Cannabis in Pennsylvania?

In Pennsylvania, only medical cannabis has been legalized, but there are still restrictions on its use. They include:

  • Only patients with qualifying medical conditions can use medical cannabis, but they must be registered with the state medical marijuana program.
  • Minors can use medical cannabis but can only obtain it through their caregivers.
  • Home cultivation of cannabis is illegal.
  • Transporting cannabis across state lines is not allowed; it is considered drug trafficking, even if they are going to another cannabis-friendly state.
  • Driving under the influence of cannabis is illegal.
  • Registered patients can only consume medical cannabis in private homes where minors are not in sight.
  • Consuming cannabis in any place that smoking is illegal is prohibited. This prohibition includes (but is not limited to bars, restaurants, public buildings, and areas within 15 feet of doors and ventilation openings.
  • Pennsylvanians cannot consume cannabis on federal property.
  • Consuming marijuana within 1,000 feet of a school or 250 feet of a recreational playground is illegal.
Pennsylvania Marijuana Laws