Cannabis Laws in Pennsylvania  

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By Alexa Glista, Features Editor

The legalization of marijuana for recreational use has happened in 18 states and the District of Columbia.[1] The question is whether Pennsylvania will be the 19th. While a majority of Pennsylvania voters support the legalization and regulated sale of marijuana, the state’s laws are among the most severe in the country.[2]

In 2020, a poll from Harper Polling found that 62% of likely voters in Pennsylvania support the legalization and sale of recreational marijuana; however, under the current state law, 

those found in possession of marijuana can face up to 30 days of imprisonment or a fine of up to $500 for 30 grams or less.[3]

Many cities in Pennsylvania have decriminalized marijuana use, including Philadelphia, York, Pittsburgh, Harrisburg, Steelton, State College, Bethlehem, Lancaster, Erie, and Upper Darby Township.[4] However, on a state level, recent legislative efforts to decriminalize recreational marijuana use have been unsuccessful.[5]

In 2018 and 2020, two bills brought by Rep. Jake Wheatley, a Democrat from Pittsburgh, aimed to legalize recreational marijuana and to provide a “clean slate” for those arrested and convicted on possession charges.[6] Both bills failed to gain traction in the GOP-controlled legislature.[7]

“In the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, there are still people being arrested for small amounts of marijuana,” said State Rep. Jordan Harris.[8] “We are criminalizing people, we are wasting taxpayer dollars by incarcerating people for something that is less harmful than alcohol. In Pennsylvania, it is the government that sells alcohol. We control the liquor stores in Pennsylvania, so we are selling something to people that is more harmful than marijuana.”[9] 

In February 2022, the state legislature held hearings on recreational marijuana legalization for the first time.[10]These hearings are part of a plan to introduce bipartisan legislation.[11] These hearings also sought to give lawmakers the prospective of many different aspects to find the best approach to marijuana legalization.[12] They heard from regulators and operators from states that have legalized recreational cannabis, as well as advocacy groups on both sides of the issue.[13]

The first hearing that took place on February 7th and focused its discussion on whether regulating that market for marijuana would adequately eliminate illegal sales, and the potential affect of how police would be impacted on dealing with impaired driving.[14] Rep. Amen Brown recognized at the meeting that ending prohibition would not totally eliminate the illicit market, but “if we legalize cannabis, it would not be as large as it is” and “so I believe if we make the right decision, we can definitely impact the black market to send them in a different direction.”[15]

The second hearing that took place on February 28th and focused on how other states have handled enacting their own legalization, and heard testimony from industry stakeholders, advocates and representatives of the Koch-backed Americans for Prosperity.[16] The committee members also discussed varying tax structures and other regulatory approaches that have been created in states like Illinois and California.[17] “There has been a demand from many of my colleagues in both the Senate and the House that any adult-use legislation needs to be comprehensive and include best practices from other states,” Sen. Mike Regan, the committee chairman, said in opening remarks. “We have gone to great lengths to bring together an extremely knowledgeable and diverse group of individuals with experience in many of those states.”[18]

The third and final hearing that took place on March 14th and focused on the successes, failures, and potential improvements to ensure its viability should the substance be legalized for recreational use regarding the Department of Health’s Office of Medical Marijuana.[19] The committee heard testimony from medical cannabis advocates and representatives of industry operators.[20] Meredith Buettner, executive director of the Pennsylvania Cannabis Coalition, proposed three best practices: “consolidating regulation of medical and adult-use cannabis under one agency, ensuring agency staff is educated and informed on the substance, and prioritizing input and feedback from the industry when creating and adjusting policy.”[21] “As we look towards the future and inevitable federal legalization, if the commonwealth has not developed and implemented its own adult-use program by the time cannabis is federally legal, we run the risk of having the federal government intervene and set up the program for us,” Buettner said.[22]

These Pennsylvania hearings have provided a broad overview of the experiences, rather than specific legislative proposals like bipartisan measures that were introduced in the past.[23] The hearings seemed to be well received, and many marijuana advocates praised the work and conversation around this complicated issue. 

However, not everyone is on board with marijuana legalization. Chief Thomas C. Gross of the York City Police Department recently wrote an article criticizing the committee for not taking the potential concerns of marijuana use seriously.[24] Gross said, “We recognize that societal change occurs and we will always need to adapt, but we must also have an opportunity to share our experience and knowledge regarding the impact on public safety of marijuana legislation. The effort to legalize is at great risk of causing more harm to children, more crime, and more danger on the highways in order to provide more opportunity for more people to get more high more often.”[25]

For now, recreational use of marijuana remains illegal in Pennsylvania, and the only way to legally possess the substance is by having a valid medical marijuana ID Card. However, this may not be the case for long. Drafting for new legislation is under way as a result of the hearings. Regan, who is sponsoring this legislation, says that Pennsylvanians could see legalization happen by June 30 of this year.[26] Only time will tell if Pennsylvania will be the 19th state to legalize the recreational use of marijuana. 

[1] Anthony Hennen, Wolf: Pennsylvania ready for legalized marijuana, NORTHCENTRALPA (Feb 25, 2022),

[2] Maggie Mancini, Pennsylvania’s cannabis laws are among harshest in U.S. despite public support of legalization, PHILLYVOICE (March 23, 2022),

[3] Id.

[4] Id.

[5] Id.

[6] Id.

[7] Michael Tanenbaum, Another marijuana legalization bill to be introduced in Pennsylvania Senate, PHILLYVOICE (March 19, 2019),

[8] Maggie Mancini, Pennsylvania’s cannabis laws are among harshest in U.S. despite public support of legalization, PHILLYVOICE (March 23, 2022),

[9] Id.

[10] Id.

[11] Id.

[12] Kyle Jaeger, Key Pennsylvania Senate Committee Completes Final Marijuana Legalization Hearing To Inform Reform Legislation, MARIJUANA MOMENT (March 14, 2022),

[13] Jan Murphy, Recreational marijuana coming to Pa.? Legislature takes first steps toward legalization, PENNLIVE (Feb. 3, 2022),

[14] Id.

[15] Kyle Jaeger, Pennsylvania Senators Discuss Marijuana Legalization For First Time At GOP-Led Committee Hearing, MARIJUANA MOMENT (Feb. 07, 2022),


[17] Id.

[18] Id.

[19] Eric Scicchitano, Final Pa. Senate hearing on legalizing cannabis focuses on protecting medical program, CNHI HARRISBURG BUREAU (March 14, 2022),

[20] Id.

[21] Id.

[22] Id.

[23] Kyle Jaeger, Key Pennsylvania Senate Committee Completes Final Marijuana Legalization Hearing To Inform Reform Legislation, MARIJUANA MOMENT (March 14, 2022),

[24]  Thomas C. Gross, Retired York Area Regional Police chief: Legalizing marijuana in PA is a dangerous idea, YORK DAILY RECORD (April 21, 2022),

[25] Id.

[26] Seth Kaplan, Will recreational pot be legal in Pa. by 4/20 of 2023?, ABC27 WHTM(April 21, 2022),

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