Cannabis in Pennsylvania

Cannabis in Pennsylvania is illegal for recreational use, but possession of small amounts is decriminalized in several of the state's largest cities. Medical use was legalized in 2016 through a bill passed by the state legislature.

Pennsylvania State Capitol lit in green to celebrate passage of medical cannabis legislation by the House of Representatives in March 2016

Medical use legalized (2016)Edit

On April 17, 2016, Governor Tom Wolf signed Senate Bill 3 to legalize the medical use of cannabis.[1] The bill allowed the use of cannabis with a physician's approval for treatment of 17 qualifying conditions listed in the bill.[2] It also set up a state-licensed system for the distribution of cannabis to patients, with the requirement (later eliminated in 2018)[3] that only non-smokable forms be sold.[4] A 5% tax rate was imposed on sales between growers, processors, and dispensaries.[5] No allowance for home cultivation was made.[6]

Senate Bill 3 passed the House by a 149-46 vote and the Senate 42–7.[6] Upon its enactment, Pennsylvania became the 24th state to legalize cannabis for medical use.[7] The first licensed sales occurred on February 15, 2018.[8][9]

Pennsylvania Democratic Party resolution (2017)Edit

In September 2017, the Pennsylvania Democratic State Committee approved a platform position stating that "cannabis is safe enough, and ubiquitous enough in society, that it does not need to be restricted or prohibited by the Controlled Substances Act".[10] The resolution urged the state Democratic Party to "support Democratic candidates and policies which promote the full repeal of cannabis prohibition by its removal from the Controlled Substances Act, and to support the creation of new laws which regulate it in a manner similar to other culturally accepted commodities".[11] The resolution specified a number of reasons for supporting legalization, including the racist and unscientific reasons for its original prohibition, the lack of fitting the criteria to be placed in Schedule I of the Controlled Substance Act, and Auditor General Eugene DePasquale's support for legalization to save criminal justice costs and earn revenue via taxed sales.[12]

"Smoke a joint, lose your license" repealed (2018)Edit

House Bill 163 was signed into law by Governor Wolf on October 24, 2018.[13] It repealed a policy known as "Smoke a joint, lose your license" under which possession of cannabis or any other illegal drug was punished with a mandatory six month driver's license suspension.[14] Under the policy, approximately 149,000 licenses were suspended for non-driving drug offenses from 2011 to 2016, according to Equal Justice Under Law, a nonprofit civil rights organization.[15] House Bill 163 was sponsored by State Representative Rick Saccone,[16] passing with only one opposing vote in the House and unanimously in the Senate.[13]

Poster for 1977 Pittsburgh Smoke-In

Statewide listening tour (2019)Edit

In December 2018, during a Q&A session with constituents on Twitter, Gov. Wolf tweeted: "I think it is time for Pennsylvania to take a serious and honest look at legalizing recreational marijuana."[17] One month later, Wolf announced a statewide tour by Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman to gather public input on the idea.[18] Said Wolf: "We could choose to ignore what's going on in the world and just pretend that nothing has happened, nothing has changed, or we can actually open our eyes and ears and say, 'let's go out and ask—let's find out.'"[19] The 70-stop tour (spanning all 67 counties in the state) kicked off February 11 in Harrisburg and ended May 19 in Philadelphia.[20][21]

A final report detailing the results of the listening tour was released to the public on September 25, 2019.[22] Gov. Wolf and Lt. Gov. Fetterman announced at a press conference that of the more than 10,000 people that attended the listening tour, 68% were in favor of recreational legalization and there was near unanimous support for decriminalization.[21] With the release of the report, the governor and lieutenant governor also called for three actions to be taken by the state legislature:[23]

  1. Passage of legislation to decriminalize possession of small amounts of cannabis.
  2. Passage of legislation to expunge prior cannabis convictions.
  3. Debate and consideration of legislation to legalize cannabis for recreational use.

Also at the press conference, Gov. Wolf announced for the first time his support for legalizing recreational use of cannabis.[24]

Governor's push for legalization (2020)Edit

On September 3, 2020, Wolf and Fetterman held a press conference to reiterate their call for the legislature to take up a cannabis legalization bill.[25][26] Said Wolf: "Now more than ever, especially right in the middle of a pandemic, we have a desperate need for the economic boost that the legalization of cannabis could provide."[27] Fetterman added: "I would pitch this as a jobs bill as much as anything. Legalizing marijuana would create tens of thousands of jobs that require no subsidy, no kind of guidance other than to rewrite the law and allow this business to flourish in Pennsylvania."[27] Also speaking at the press conference in support of legalization was State Senator Sharif Street.[28]

On September 16, 2020, Wolf, Fetterman, and a representative from NORML held a press conference to further call for the legislature to act.[29][30] Said Wolf: "New Jersey citizens are going to vote [on a cannabis legalization referendum], and if they vote to legalize it, we will have given up the opportunity to gain the revenue that will definitely go across the border to New Jersey."[31] Fetterman added that "40 percent of our population will live within a 30-minute drive or less of legal marijuana", and that Pennsylvania should reap the economic benefits of these consumers, "not New Jersey".[31]

On October 13, 2020, Wolf held a press conference in Monroe County to make a third call for legalization in the state.[32][33] He was joined at the press conference by a local hemp farmer and State Representative Maureen Madden.[34][35]

Municipal reformsEdit

Jurisdictions in the below table have revised their municipal ordinances to lessen penalties for cannabis offenses. Police still retain the ability to charge individuals under state law, however. In Allentown and part of Bethlehem, police officials have said they will enforce state law only per the directive of Lehigh County District Attorney Jim Martin.[36][37][38]

Municipality Date Policy reform
Philadelphia September 2014 City council voted 13–3 to decriminalize up to 30 grams, punishable by a $25 fine.[39]
Pittsburgh December 2015 City council voted 7–2 to decriminalize up to 30 grams, punishable by a $25 fine.[40]
Harrisburg July 2016 City council voted unanimously to decriminalize small amounts, punishable by a $75 fine.[41]
State College August 2016 City council voted 5–2 to decriminalize up to 30 grams, punishable by a $250 fine.[42]
York July 2017 City council voted 4–1 to decriminalize up to 30 grams, punishable by a $100 fine.[43]
Erie January 2018 City council voted unanimously to decriminalize up to 30 grams, punishable by a $25 fine.[44]
Allentown May 2018 City council voted 4–3 to decriminalize up to 30 grams, punishable by a $25 fine for a first offense.[45]
Bethlehem June 2018 City council voted 6–0 to decriminalize up to 30 grams, punishable by a $25 fine for a first offense.[38]
Lancaster September 2018 City council voted 6–1 to decriminalize small amounts, punishable by a $25 fine for a first offense.[46]
Steelton March 2019 Borough council voted 5-0 to decriminalize up to 30 grams for a first offense, punishable by a $25–$100 fine.[47]
Delaware County November 2020 County council voted unanimously to decriminalize up to 30 grams, punishable by a $50 fine.[48][49]
Carlisle December 2020 Borough council voted to decriminalize up to 30 grams, punishable by a $25 fine.[50][51]
Doylestown April 2021 Borough council voted 8–1 to decriminalize up to 30 grams, punishable by a $25 fine.[52]

On January 20, 2015, Constable Ed Quiggle, Jr. of Sunbury signed the Compassionate Medical Cannabis Reform Resolution, making it official policy for the Office of Constable for the 9th Ward of the City to not enforce or cooperate in the enforcement of any acts which prohibit, penalize, or criminalize the possession, cultivation, or use of medical cannabis, hemp, cannabinoids, and other illegal or experimental drugs, becoming the first law enforcement agency in Pennsylvania, and perhaps the first in the United States, to enact such a policy.[53][54][55]


  1. ^ Murphy, Jan (April 17, 2016). "It's official: Medical marijuana now legal in Pennsylvania". Retrieved April 13, 2019.
  2. ^ Esack, Steve (April 13, 2016). "Pennsylvania lawmakers OK medical marijuana". The Morning Call. Retrieved April 13, 2019.
  3. ^ Wenner, David (August 1, 2018). "Pa. begins dry leaf medical marijuana sales, reminds users not to smoke it". Retrieved April 13, 2019.
  4. ^ Langley, Karen (April 18, 2016). "Medical marijuana legalized in Pennsylvania". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Retrieved April 13, 2019.
  5. ^ Peterson, Amanda (April 18, 2016). "Highlights of Pennsylvania's medical marijuana legislation". WHTM. Retrieved April 13, 2019.
  6. ^ a b Stauffer, Heather (April 17, 2016). "Medical marijuana in Pennsylvania: Everything you want to know, but are afraid to ask". LNP. Retrieved April 13, 2019.
  7. ^ Craig, Daniel (April 17, 2016). "Wolf signs medical marijuana bill into law". PhillyVoice. Retrieved April 13, 2019.
  8. ^ Scolforo, Mark (February 15, 2018). "Legal medical marijuana sales begin at Pennsylvania facility". Associated Press. Retrieved October 21, 2020.
  9. ^ Wardle, Lisa (February 15, 2018). "Happy tears and hope: 1st medical marijuana dispensary opens in Pa". Retrieved October 21, 2020.
  10. ^ Strekal, Justin (September 19, 2017). "Pennsylvania Democratic Party Adopts Marijuana Legalization Into Policy Platform". NORML. Retrieved April 25, 2021.
  11. ^ "Resolution - Platform Policy on the Legalization of Marijuana/Cannabis" (PDF). Retrieved April 25, 2021.
  12. ^ "Auditor General DePasquale Says State Could Reap $581 Million Annually by Regulating, Taxing Marijuana" (Press release). Pittsburgh: July 19, 2018.
  13. ^ a b "Governor Wolf Signs Bill to End Unnecessary Suspensions of Drivers' Licenses" (Press release). Harrisburg: ACLU Pennsylvania. October 24, 2018.
  14. ^ "Senate Approves Saccone's Legislation Addressing License Suspensions for Non-Driving Convictions" (Press release). Harrisburg: October 17, 2018.
  15. ^ Segelbaum, Dylan (October 18, 2018). "Pa. to end mandatory driver's license suspensions for drug crimes unrelated to driving". York Daily Record. Retrieved September 21, 2020.
  16. ^ Perkins, Lucy (October 18, 2018). "Saccone's Final Bill In Harrisburg Ends Suspension Of Driver's Licenses For Drug Offenses". WESA. Retrieved September 21, 2020.
  17. ^ Tanenbaum, Michael (December 20, 2018). "Gov. Wolf wants Pennsylvania to take 'serious and honest' look at recreational marijuana". PhillyVoice. Retrieved April 13, 2019.
  18. ^ Murphy, Jan (January 24, 2019). "Lt. Gov. John Fetterman's first official assignment: Take Pa. residents' pulse on legalizing pot". Retrieved April 13, 2019.
  19. ^ Jaeger, Kyle (January 24, 2019). "Pennsylvania Governor Announces Statewide Marijuana Legalization Listening Tour". Marijuana Moment. Retrieved April 13, 2019.
  20. ^ Thompson, Charles (February 11, 2019). "Marijuana meetings start in Harrisburg with strong showing of support for legal pot". Retrieved April 13, 2019.
  21. ^ a b "Lieutenant Governor Fetterman Statewide Cannabis Listening Tour Report" (PDF). July 2019. Retrieved September 26, 2019.
  22. ^ "Gov. Wolf, Lt. Gov. Fetterman Announce Report, Next Steps After Adult-Use Recreational Marijuana Tour" (Press release). Harrisburg: September 25, 2019. Retrieved September 26, 2019.
  23. ^ Jaeger, Kyle (September 25, 2019). "Pennsylvania Governor Comes Out In Support Of Marijuana Legalization". Marijuana Moment. Retrieved September 26, 2019.
  24. ^ Murphy, Jan (September 25, 2019). "Gov. Tom Wolf calls for legalizing recreational marijuana in Pennsylvania". Retrieved September 26, 2019.
  25. ^ Tierney, Jacob (September 3, 2020). "Gov. Wolf renews call for legal recreational marijuana". Retrieved September 4, 2020.
  26. ^ "Gov. Wolf and Lt. Gov. Fetterman Renew Call for Legislature to Take up Legalization of Adult-Use Cannabis to Help with COVID Recovery, Restorative Justice" (Press release). September 3, 2020.
  27. ^ a b DeJesus, Ivey (September 3, 2020). "Legalized marijuana would raise hundreds of millions of dollars for Pa., Wolf and Fetterman say". Retrieved September 4, 2020.
  28. ^ Adlin, Ben (September 3, 2020). "Pennsylvania Governor Slams GOP Lawmakers For Not Legalizing Marijuana". Marijuana Moment. Retrieved September 4, 2020.
  29. ^ Murphy, Jan (September 16, 2020). "'The time to end prohibition against cannabis has come'; advocates call for action in Pa. on marijuana legalization". Retrieved September 24, 2020.
  30. ^ "Gov. Wolf and Lt. Gov. Fetterman Message to Legislature: Now is the Time to Take up Legalization of Adult-Use Cannabis" (Press release). September 16, 2020.
  31. ^ a b Tanenbaum, Michael (September 17, 2020). "Fetterman: Pennsylvania farmers will grow better marijuana than New Jersey's". PhillyVoice. Retrieved September 24, 2020.
  32. ^ Bresswein, Kurt (October 13, 2020). "Wolf, in Monroe County, calls a 3rd time for legalizing adult-use recreational marijuana". Retrieved October 19, 2020.
  33. ^ Jaeger, Kyle (October 13, 2020). "Pennsylvania Governor Again Calls On Lawmakers To Legalize Marijuana". Marijuana Moment. Retrieved October 19, 2020.
  34. ^ "Gov. Wolf: Legalization of Adult-Use Cannabis Can Lead to Economic Gains and Restorative Justice for Pennsylvanians" (Press release). October 13, 2020.
  35. ^ Myszkowski, Brian (October 13, 2020). "Gov. Wolf pushes legal weed in Poconos visit". Pocono Record. Retrieved October 19, 2020.
  36. ^ Opilo, Emily (May 25, 2018). "Allentown mayor signs marijuana decriminalization law, but city police won't enforce". The Morning Call. Retrieved April 14, 2019.
  37. ^ Opilo, Emily (May 30, 2018). "Q&A: Why Allentown's marijuana decriminalization law isn't being enforced". The Morning Call. Retrieved April 14, 2019.
  38. ^ a b Bresswein, Kurt (June 27, 2018). "Busted for weed in Bethlehem? Charge will depend on where". Retrieved April 13, 2019.
  39. ^ Cherney, Max (September 14, 2014). "Philadelphia Is Decriminalizing Marijuana Possession". Vice News. Retrieved April 13, 2019.
  40. ^ Kearney, Laila (December 21, 2015). "Pittsburgh to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana". Reuters. Retrieved April 13, 2019.
  41. ^ Vendel, Christine (July 6, 2016). "It's official: Harrisburg council reduces penalties for pot possession". Retrieved April 13, 2019.
  42. ^ Rushton, Geoff (August 1, 2016). "Marijuana Possession No Longer a Misdemeanor in State College". Retrieved May 24, 2021.
  43. ^ Addy, Jason (July 18, 2017). "York City Council passes marijuana decriminalization". The York Dispatch. Retrieved April 13, 2019.
  44. ^ Flowers, Kevin (January 18, 2018). "Erie City Council OK's reduced marijuana possession penalties". Archived from the original on April 13, 2019. Retrieved April 13, 2019.
  45. ^ Bresswein, Kurt (May 25, 2018). "Mayor signs Allentown law decriminalizing marijuana". Retrieved April 13, 2019.
  46. ^ Paul, Ashley (September 25, 2018). "Lancaster City votes to decriminalize marijuana". WPMT. Retrieved April 13, 2019.
  47. ^ Herrington, A.J. (March 20, 2019). "Pennsylvania Town Decriminalizes Marijuana, Sees Future in Legal Pot". High Times. Retrieved July 22, 2019.
  48. ^ Vella, Vinnie (November 6, 2020). "Delaware County Council decriminalizes small amounts of marijuana". The Philadelphia Inquirer. Archived from the original on February 9, 2021. Retrieved February 3, 2021.
  50. ^ Versak, Melissa (December 11, 2020). "Carlisle Borough Council votes to decriminalize small amounts marijuana". WPMT. Retrieved December 15, 2020.
  51. ^ Gitt, Tammie (December 15, 2020). "Carlisle Borough moves to decriminalize marijuana". The Sentinel. Archived from the original on December 26, 2020. Retrieved December 18, 2020.
  52. ^ Ward, Jeff; Farris, Jaccii (April 19, 2021). "Doylestown ends criminal penalties for small amounts of marijuana". WFMZ. Retrieved December 4, 2021.
  53. ^ "Constable's new policy designed to protect medical marijuana patients and privacy rights". Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Independent Gazette. January 22, 2015. Archived from the original on December 22, 2015. Retrieved December 22, 2015.
  54. ^ "A Sunbury constable is fighting pot laws". WKOK. January 22, 2015. Archived from the original on September 11, 2015. Retrieved December 22, 2015.
  55. ^ "Resolution 2015-1 the Compassionate Medical Cannabis Reform Resolution". Office of Constable for the 9th Ward of the City of Sunbury, PA. January 20, 2015. Retrieved December 22, 2015.

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