Could Pennsylvania Legalize Marijuana In 2024? Advocates Make The Case For An Adult-Use Cannabis Law

Neighboring states Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, and Ohio have all already legalized it.
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All eyes are on Pennsylvania now that five out of six neighboring states have access to recreational marijuana, with Ohio being the most recent state to legalize cannabis use. While the keystone state currently has a medical marijuana program, which was passed in 2016, attempts to expand this law over the years have remained unsuccessful. In recent months, however, there has been a renewed push in the state legislature to advance recreational marijuana legislation. Cannabis advocates say it’s “past time” for Pennsylvania lawmakers to act and join Ohio in passing an adult-use bill. 

“I can’t believe that Ohio actually beat us,” Zachary Uzupis, the executive director of Bucks County NORML, told the Bucks County Beacon, adding that Ohio’s chances of legalizing cannabis looked slim until voters passed November’s ballot initiative. “Pennsylvania is absolutely ripe and ready for an adult-use legalization market.” The overwhelming majority of Pennsylvanians agree. According to a 2022 CBS News poll, 66 percent of Pennsylvania voters are in favor of legalizing cannabis in the commonwealth. 

“Legal access to cannabis for adults 21 and over helps diminish the illicit market while prioritizing consumer safety, capturing tax revenue, encouraging job creation and investment while correcting the harms caused by the failed war on drugs,” Meredith Buettner, the executive director of the Pennsylvania Cannabis Coalition, said in a statement to the Bucks County Beacon. In addition to these benefits, Buettner says Pennsylvania’s existing medical marijuana infrastructure will make it that much easier and efficient to set up an adult-use market. 

Pennsylvanians over 21 can currently travel to Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, or Ohio to purchase legal cannabis products for recreational use. However, there are certain drawbacks to going out-of-state. For one, it’s illegal for Pennsylvania residents to transport marijuana across state lines. In fact, violating this law is a felony offense that can result in federal prosecution and lead to potentially unsafe interactions with the police. “Our legislators are putting Pennsylvanians at risk by not addressing this critical issue,” Uzupis said. 

Under Ohio’s new law, adults 21 and over can buy and possess a maximum of 2.5 ounces of marijuana and grow up to six cannabis plants a person or 12 plants per household. 

So what’s standing in the way of an adult-use cannabis law? 

According to Uzupis, the main culprit is stigma rather than partisanship. “The stigma of cannabis has been entrenched into our Zeitgeist,” he said, noting that there’s “so much work to be done” to normalize and destigmatize marijuana, and that includes legalizing it. He also says that state lawmakers are not quite as divided on cannabis legalization as it might seem. 

While Pennsylvania Democrats tend to favor marijuana legalization more than their Republican counterparts, Uzupis says this a bipartisan issue. 

As it stands, both Democratic and Republican legislators have taken steps to advance this goal, holding informational hearings on cannabis legalization and proposing two separate bills to decriminalize marijuana possession and legalize cannabis use for adults over 21. Senate Bill 846 would allow Pennsylvania residents to possess a maximum of 30 grams of cannabis flower, and five grams of cannabis concentrate, and 1,000 milligrams of THC contained in cannabis-infused products. The measure was introduced by Republican State Senator Dan Laughlin and Democratic State Senators Sharif Street, John Kane, Timothy Kearney, and Wayne Fontana. 

Governor Josh Shapiro has also signaled his support for cannabis legalization, and even signed a law in December that allows licensed medical marijuana grower-processors to sell cannabis products directly to patients. According to Marijuana Moment, this move has created the impression that recreational cannabis sales are not far behind. Buettner told WTIF that she is “optimistic” that marijuana legalization will happen sooner rather than later, but it’s still unclear what a final bill would specifically entail. 

A substantial source of current debate over marijuana legalization in Pennsylvania comes down to where these potential sales would take place: in privately-owned dispensaries or state-run stores. Uzupis says putting the state in charge of cannabis stores is not a “very popular idea,” citing Pennsylvania’s state-run liquor stores, which tend to have higher prices than private liquor stores. 

“Pennsylvanians will suffer if only the state is able to control the supply of cannabis,” he continued. “Market forces should determine the supply of cannabis in Pennsylvania, buttressed by consumer-friendly regulations, and that’s one of the most important things about an adult use market: cannabis will be regulated so that it’s much safer.”

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Catherine Caruso

Catherine Caruso is a Pennsylvania-based freelance writer with a focus on culture, politics, education, and LGBTQ rights.

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