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Legislation sets path for recreational marijuana in Pennsylvania

Supporters of legalizing cannabis for adult-use hold up signs outside the Pennsylvania state Capitol in Harrisburg on June 27, 2023. The signs say "let freedom grow" and "legalize it."
Ed Mahon
Spotlight PA
Supporters of legalizing cannabis for adult-use rally outside the state Capitol in Harrisburg on June 27, 2023. In Pennsylvania, some lawmakers have argued changes are needed to improve the medical marijuana program and prevent Pennsylvania residents from traveling to neighboring states that have legalized adult-use marijuana

Pennsylvanians could have easier access to marijuana should new legislation legalizing recreational cannabis become law.

A bill sponsored by Sens. Dan Laughlin, R-Erie, and Sharif Street, D-Philadelphia, would legalize marijuana, but for Laughlin, marijuana has been effectively legal since medical marijuana was legalized in 2015.

“In my opinion, Pennsylvania legalized adult-use cannabis when they legalized the medical program in 2015,” Laughlin said. “I think anybody that is involved in this space at all knows that it’s not difficult to get a medical card. Although it is a step that, you would have to take where you wouldn’t if we just had adult-use recreational.”

The Independent Fiscal Office estimates the change would generate anywhere from $400 million to upwards of $1 billion a year in tax revenue.

The bill would also expunge criminal records of low-level cannabis offenders, Laughlin said.

All modes of cannabis consumption would be legalized.

DeVaugh Ward, senior legislative counsel at the Marijuana Policy Project, says the bill is a step in the right direction.

“We look at the bill as a positive, as a net positive, to be able to stop incarcerating folks for cannabis use is, you know, one of the primary goals of the marijuana policy project,” Ward said.

In 2021, the most recent data available, over 13,000 people were arrested for marijuana possession.

The Senate will review the bill when it returns in September.