Pennsylvania on track to legalize Recreational Marijuana

Recreational Cannabis in Pennsylvania
Pennsylvania Governor, Tom Wolf legalized medical marijuana in PA on April 17, 2016

Recreational use of cannabis is legal in 11 states – Alaska, California, Colorado, Washington, Vermont, Oregon, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada, and Oregon – and Pennsylvania is looking to become the 12th. After President Trump declared that he would leave the task to state governments, various regions are advocating for various levels of pot legalization while rushing to keep up with the national – as well as global – cannabis trends.

Recently, we saw Canberra legalize the recreational use of marijuana, and Wisconsin is on the verge of legalizing cannabis for medical and research purposes, but what is the state of cannabis legalization in PA amidst all of these dramatic shifts?

Legalization of Marijuana in Pennsylvania for Medical Purposes

Pennsylvania Governor, Tom Wolf legalized medical marijuana in PA on April 17, 2016 (days before International Cannabis day). The legislation allows for the use of marijuana in the treatment of over 20 medical conditions (initially 17) with a doctor’s prescription. The distribution of the medication was put under state-licensed agencies. The law did not make any provisions for home cultivation of cannabis, although some major cities in the state allow possession of small amounts.

Sponsor of the bill, Republican Senator Mike Folmer admitted that he had used marijuana to alleviate the effects of chemotherapy before the legalization. The bill received massive support from the State Assembly as well as the Senate. 

To get cannabis medication in PA, residents must apply for the program through the Marijuana Registry. Upon registration, a doctor must confirm that you have a condition that qualifies for cannabis medication. Once certification is granted and a medical cannabis ID card has been administered, patients can purchase the medication at any approved dispensary in PA. 

Despite legalization, the state continues to experience a shortage of medical cannabis due to high demand. As a result, most dispensaries have placed a limit on the amount that each patient can receive. The Commonwealth has over 60 approved dispensaries which cater to the over 200,000  registered cannabis medication users. The shortage has been attributed to the unprecedented growth of the cannabis industry and the inability of farmers to keep up with demand. In some instances, licensed growers are not cultivating the crop, which has further contributed to the shortfall.

The Push for Legalization of Recreational Cannabis in Pennsylvania

After Governor Wolf indicated his intent to legalize cannabis in Pennsylvania last December, Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman has been gathering public input. The report from Fetterman on 25th September 2019 indicated that more than 68% of PA residents were in support of legalization, and there was near unanimous support of cannabis decriminalization in Pennsylvania. 

After touring Pennsylvania’s 67 counties, Tom Wolf remarked, “I said in the past that I didn’t know if Pennsylvania was ready for this…I believe Pennsylvania is ready for this.” He was referring to recreational cannabis legalization, wherein he called for the withdrawal of charges against nonviolent acts involving small amounts of marijuana. The Governor also called for the expungement of records for previous convicts. 

Other state leaders – among them, state Auditor General Eugene DePasquale – applauded the Governor for advocating for the reforms. Fetterman also noted that opponents of the bill were in the minority after receiving such considerable support.

House Republican leaders released a report indicating their frustration with Wolf’s push, and pointed out that their faction was not ready to legalize recreational marijuana in Pennsylvania. In their statement, they cited the opioid epidemic and infancy of medical marijuana as the cause of their reservations. They deemed the push a distraction from the agenda of the leaders in curbing violence, growing the economy, and expansion of educational opportunities.

Economic Contribution of Cannabis Legalization in Pennsylvania

Wolf forecasts that the legalization of marijuana in Pennsylvania would create a $1 billion market for the crop.  According to Philly.com, the 5% taxation between growers, processors, and distributors of medical marijuana in PA has earned the state considerable revenue, collecting over $2 million in taxes. Dispensaries saw a whopping gross revenue of over $132 million over the past year. Considering the high demand for medical marijuana, recreational legalization would greatly contribute to the economy.

Colorado is one of the states which have recorded vast economic growth after cannabis legalization. In the state, the recreational use of marijuana sales hit over $1.5 billion according to The Gazette. Apart from direct contribution to state revenues, the legalization also contributed to a rise in property value for Colorado. 

Pennsylvania Auditor General Eugene DePasquale estimates that legalization will contribute around $580 million in state revenues. Although the economic contribution of recreational cannabis legalization might not be realized immediately, it will be felt over time. As is the case in other states that have legalized recreational marijuana, it is difficult to estimate the contribution in its initial stages. 

Will the Motion Succeed in a Republican Dominated House?

The impact of the Republicans on this bill cannot be underestimated. The leaders indicated they did not support the move to legalize marijuana in Pennsylvania. First, PA does not have provisions for a referendum on such matters. Therefore, the bill has to go through The House voting. The Republicans dominate both houses which means there is an uphill in the bill’s approval. 

However, it is not certain whether most representatives will be ready to go against the will of most residents, and the influence of the top state leaders cannot be ignored. Though the Republicans dominate the houses, The Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Attorney General, and Auditor General all support the bill. 

In the past, only 2 state legislatures, Illinois and Vermont, have passed the recreational use of marijuana. The neighboring states of New Jersey and New York are also in the process potentially legalizing the recreational use of cannabis.

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