Is the time right for Pennsylvania to decriminalize marijuana?
State Senators Sharif Street (D-Philadelphia) and Camera Bartolotta (R-Beaver/Greene/Washington) believe so and are looking for sponsors for their bipartisan proposed legislation.
The duo is reintroducing SB107 from the previous session which amends Pennsylvania’s Controlled Substances Act changing the grading of possession of a “small amount” of marijuana from a misdemeanor to a summary offense.
Street and Bartolotta note that cannabis was legalized in the Commonwealth for medical purposes in 2016, yet the state continues to criminalize recreational marijuana and incarcerate those who possess small amounts of it. This seems injudicious and, frankly, inappropriate. In their words, it “seems injudicious and, frankly, inappropriate.”
Currently, the possession of a small amount of cannabis is treated as a misdemeanor of the third degree. The maximum penalty is 30 days in jail, and a $500 fine. Also, if a person is convicted of a violation, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation is required to suspend the license for six months.
Under their proposed legislation, possession of small amounts of cannabis would be reduced to a summary offense and would not result in any driver’s license suspension. The penalty for possession would be a $25 fine for all offenses, and the penalty for consumption in public would be a $100 fine for all offenses, similar to those local ordinances already in place in Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and Erie.
It’s an issue with strong support among Pennsylvania voters, as two in three registered voters support adult-use cannabis, according to a 2022 CBS News poll. As part of his 2023-24 state budget, Gov. Josh Shapiro proposed a 20% tax on the wholesale price of marijuana products “sold through the regulated framework of the production and sales system, once legalized.” The proposal includes estimates that assume adult-use sales would begin in January 2025 and bring in about $16 million in tax revenue that year.
“With five out of six surrounding states already regulating cannabis for adult use, most Pennsylvanians live in a county that touches a legal state,” says Meredith Buettner, executive director of the Pennsylvania Cannabis Coalition. “Pennsylvania should join its neighbors and legalize cannabis to ensure safe access, right the wrongs of cannabis prohibition, and stop revenue from bleeding across the borders of the commonwealth.”
Buettner also points out to the state of Illinois – with a similar population base as Pennsylvania – which has delivered more than $1 billion in revenues since sales of legal cannabis began in 2020.
Street and another state senator – Dan Laughlin (R-Erie) – introduced SB846 earlier in the year which also calls for the legalization of adult use marijuana in Pennsylvania. But that bill has languished in the Law and Justice committee since July.
“The society that we live in today accepts cannabis for the most part. All the surrounding states around us have legalized it,” Laughlin said in an interview with WENY News in July, briefly following the bill’s introduction.
“It’s absolutely absurd — how many states around Pennsylvania are we falling behind?” said U.S. Senator John Fetterman, reflecting on Ohio’s recent vote to legalize cannabis at the ballot. “I don’t know why Republicans are opposing it, because the majority of their constituents want this. It shouldn’t be that hard in Pennsylvania.
“Legalization is inevitable. Why not just get in front of it now in Pennsylvania and do the right thing? Four or five years ago, everyone thought I was weird or just a stoner because I believed that it was the right way to go. Republicans at the time said, ‘We don’t want this and the majority of people don’t either.’ We found out we actually do, and now, we have been lapped by New York, New Jersey, Maryland, D.C. and now Ohio.”