- Marijuana is illegal on the federal level, but many states have legalized medical use, decriminalized recreational use, and even repeal prohibition laws.
- Medical marijuana is legal under specific guidelines at the state level in Pennsylvania, while marijuana consumption for recreational remains illegal.
- However, several cities and counties within the state have worked to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana.
The legality of recreational and medical marijuana use in the United States is in a bit of an odd place. At the federal level, marijuana remains a Schedule 1 drug. That means that the federal government considers marijuana to have “no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.”
However, as most people know, states and local governments continue to push forward by creating medical marijuana laws, decriminalizing recreational use, and, in some cases, outright legalizing the use and cultivation of marijuana. In fact, only two states, Idaho and Nebraska, currently disallow any use of marijuana, and even Nebraska has taken steps towards decriminalization.
Pennsylvania is a state that has begun to allow its residents restricted access to marijuana. While it hasn’t fully legalized use, the state has taken steps to improve the well-being of its residents and help modernize its economy with marijuana.
Current State of Recreational Marijuana Laws in Pennsylvania
Currently, the recreational use of marijuana in the state of Pennsylvania is illegal. Medical marijuana, though, is legal. However, you must be a qualified patient to consume the substance.
This means that you can face fines and even imprisonment for possessing or consuming marijuana recreationally; if you possess marijuana within 1000 feet of a school or 250 feet of a playground, the punishment increases.
Some states have decriminalized marijuana, meaning that possession or consumption is still technically illegal, although the punishments are dramatically reduced or practically eliminated. The only legislative step Pennsylvania has taken to decriminalize marijuana so far is to repeal a law that suspended the driver’s license of anyone convicted of any marijuana-related offense.
That said, some cities and counties have enacted decriminalization ordinances. This can add another step of confusion, as state laws override these local ordinances, and it is ultimately up to local prosecutors to determine what crime a person is charged with. For instance, Allentown passed a bill that made the punishment for possessing a small amount of marijuana a $25 fine for first-time violators. However, when the bill was passed, the local district attorney stated he would not enforce this and would default to the overriding state law that carries heavier penalties.
The laws of the state of Pennsylvania still carry harsh punishments for those possessing or consuming marijuana recreationally:
- Possession of 30 grams or less can lead to 30-day incarceration and a $500 fine.
- Selling or distribution of the above amount can lead to similar penalties.
- Possession of more than 30 grams can lead to a year of incarceration and a $5,000 fine.
- Selling or distributing the above amount is a felony crime that could lead to 5 years of incarceration and a $15,000 fine.
- Cultivation of any number of plants is considered a felony and could lead to 5 years of incarceration and a $15,000 fine.
Additionally, it is illegal to operate a vehicle in Pennsylvania if there is any amount of marijuana in your system. Failing to abide by this law can lead to severe punishment:
- First offense: Mandatory minimum of 72 hours in jail, a $1,000 to $5,000 fine, and must comply with all drug and alcohol treatment requirements, along with additional punishments.
- Second offense: Mandatory minimum of 90 days in jail.
- Third and any additional offense: Mandatory minimum of one-year incarceration.
While the state of Pennsylvania has yet to decriminalize marijuana, cities and counties within the state have worked to reduce the punishment drastically. Many have reduced the penalty to $25 for those possessing small amounts up to 30 grams:
Others have lessened the penalty to amounts slightly higher than $25, though still dramatically lower than at the state level:
Current State of Medical Marijuana Laws in Pennsylvania
Medical use of marijuana is allowed in the state of Pennsylvania as long as you’ve been diagnosed with a qualifying condition, and a certified physician recommends marijuana. In those cases, you can keep a 30-day supply of marijuana, as long as it’s in the form of infused liquids, oils, pills, tinctures, and topicals. Smoking marijuana is still prohibited.
There are a variety of medical conditions that could qualify you for a medical marijuana card:
- Anxiety disorder
- Multiple Sclerosis
- Sickle cell anemia
For more eligibility information, make sure to read the Pennsylvania Department of Health website.
How to Get a Medical Marijuana Card
If you have a qualifying condition and want to get a medical marijuana card, you must first register with the state. Once registered, you’ll need to see an approved physician who can certify your diagnosis. If approved, your physician will also set an expiration date for the card. The maximum length is one year.
Once all the paperwork is filled out, you’ll have to pay $50 to receive your medical marijuana card in the mail. It can take up to 21 days for the card to arrive. With your medical marijuana card in tow, you can then purchase marijuana at approved dispensaries within the state.
The Future of Marijuana Laws in Pennsylvania
Like many states, Pennsylvania’s combination of metropolitan and rural areas leads to a state government filled with contrasting political philosophies and policy beliefs. For instance, the current governor, Tom Wolf, has stated his support for legalizing recreational marijuana in Pennsylvania. The lieutenant governor, John Fetterman, has also taken to flying flags supporting legalization from the balcony of his office.
In 2019 the governor and the lieutenant governor went on a well-publicized listening tour throughout the state to specifically discuss marijuana with Pennsylvanian residents. Afterward, they reported near-unanimous support for decriminalization and that nearly 70% approved legalizing recreational consumption for adults. The report also found that this level of support was found regardless of political party identification or other demographics.
Public support of legalization has also led to legislators introducing bills, such as H.B. 2050, that would repeal the ban on recreational use and possession, and use the resulting taxes to help women and minority-owned marijuana businesses, fund student loan reimbursement, and support after school programming.
Support for decriminalization and legalization is constantly growing throughout the country. So, it seems like it may be only a matter of time before Pennsylvania and other states take further action.
Fluent in Pennsylvania
Featured Image: Lukasz Stefanski/Shutterstock