Adult Use Marijuana in Pennsylvania’s Future?

October 30, 2023

There has been talk for years of legalizing marijuana in Pennsylvania for adult use. At present, adult marijuana is legal in 23 states including our neighbors New York, New Jersey and Delaware. It is also permitted in Washington, DC. There have been several failed bills to legalize marijuana in Pennsylvania. The recently introduced Senate Bill 846 of 2023 appears to be the bill that may finally bring adult use to Pennsylvania. This is a bipartisan bill sponsored by Senator Daniel Laughlin (R-Erie) and Senator Sharif Street (D-Philadelphia). The bill is 224 pages in length, comprehensive and has significant support.

The bill would legalize adult use of cannabis by those 21 years and older. This includes purchasing, consuming and transfer to others also 21 and older. ID would be required to verify age, but beyond that, dispensaries will not be allowed to ask for identification or track personal information without consent. The bill allows smoking and vaporization of marijuana. Medical marijuana is not currently permitted to be smoked in Pennsylvania. Adults may possess up to 30 grams of flower (just over an ounce), 1000 mg of THC edibles/infused products, and 5 grams of concentrate. Those who legally purchase adult use marijuana will still be able to own and purchase firearms, cannot be disqualified from medical care, including organ transplants, and cannot have their adult use be a determinative factor in child custody matters.

There are limits on use though. Cannabis cannot be purchased or used by prison inmates or those on probation. No one can use cannabis on school buses, in any daycare or school, near someone under 21, or in vehicles. Use of marijuana is also prohibited for CDL drivers, on-duty law enforcement officers, on-duty correctional and probation officers and on-duty firefighters. Private businesses can prohibit use of marijuana on their property, including in cars in their parking lots. And for those of us who handle employment law matters, know that employers can still have zero tolerance policies and drug free workplaces. There is no requirement to allow use or storage of marijuana at work, and employees can be disciplined for violation of employer policies on marijuana. Finally, it is illegal to operate vehicles, aircraft, watercraft or snowmobiles while using marijuana or under the influence.

The bill also expands the Pennsylvania medical marijuana program to allow certified patients over 21 years old to grow their own plants without a special license. Patients are limited to five plants over five inches. Seeds would be purchased from dispensaries and the plants grow in an enclosed and locked space.

This must be done only in the patient’s residential home. If the home is rented or leased, however, the landlord has the power to prohibit home grow on their property.

Finally, the bill creates a Cannabis Regulatory Board to oversee the program which will be made up of appointees named by the Governor and legislative leaders of both the house and senate, majority and minority. One appointee must be a member of the cannabis industry. A Chief Medical Officer must also be named. There is also a three million dollar Cannabis Business Development Fund created to track and encourage social and economic equity through provision of loans, grants and outreach. There are no quotas or participation rate goals for the disadvantaged set at this time.

If enacted, the law will go into effect in 180 days. Current medical marijuana dispensaries can become dual medical/adult use with payment of a 25K fee, and current growers and processors can become dual use with payment of a 100K fee. The plan is for an 8% sales tax paid by consumers and a 5% excise tax on gross profits to be paid for by adult dispensaries. Advertising is permitted; however, all packaging must be sealed and child-resistant and not attractive to children.

As mentioned, this a is comprehensive and well-thought-out bill. Certainly tweaks will need to be made. It is designed to complement, not replace our medical marijuana system. Medical marijuana, unlike adult use, will remain tax-free and the limits on possession for adult use do not apply. I will monitor the bill keep everyone apprised of any significant developments. If all goes well Pennsylvania could become an adult-use state in 2024.

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