50 States

50 States: Pennsylvania

By Jon Young

50 States: Pennsylvania

Medical: Yes
Recreational: No
Decriminalized: No

“Marijuana is medicine,” said Democratic Senator Daylin Leach, Senate Bill 3’s co-sponsor. “And it’s coming to Pennsylvania.”

The twenty-fourth state to legalize medical marijuana (MMJ) did so just in time for the annual all-things-cannabis jubilee of April 20, passing SB 3 on April 17th with the signature of Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf.

“I want to give doctors the ability to prescribe medicine as they see fit,” Gov. Wolf said. “It pains me that anybody, any citizen of Pennsylvania, is not getting the treatment he or she needs because of some legal impediment.”

The impediment now to patients needing access to MMJ will be the predicted two-year wait for the Pennsylvania Health Department to get the program up and running. The state will issue 25 licenses to processors/growers and 50 licenses to dispensaries that will each be allowed up to three locations, making for a possible 150 dispensaries statewide.

While the state is looking to make the consumer price of cannabis competitive with black market prices, a five percent tax willfall on processors and growers who supply dispensaries as well as hefty application and licensing fees. For growers or processors, that means a $10,000 application fee, registration fees of $200,000 as well as $2 million in capital, $500,000 of which has to be in a bank. Potential dispensary owners have to shell out $5,000 for an application, $30,000 to register each location and have $150,000 in a bank.

Pennsylvania expects to make around $10 million in the first year alone with fees and taxes, but while start-up costs may seem high, investors could see a huge payoff as one market research firm predicts Pennsylvania’s cannabis market to top $2 billion by 2020.

The law itself allows those suffering from 17 different conditions—including PTSD, autism, intractable seizures, chronic pain, HIV/AIDS and epilepsy, among others—to have access to cannabis derivatives in the form of pills, oils, tinctures, liquids, ointment or in a form medically appropriate for vaporization. Pennsylvania residents will not be allowed to grow their own plants or physically smoke cannabis buds.

Because of the two-year process to get the program up and running, a safe-haven clause was included in the bill to allow parents the legal right to obtain cannabis in other states to treat their children suffering from an approved condition after 30 days. Adults will have to wait six months for legal protection.

“People should be able to start using these medicines really quickly,” Gov. Wolf said on Newsradio 1020 KDKA. “If someone were to go to another state and buy it legally and bring it back for medicinal purposes, I kind of doubt that most prosecutors would pursue a case even right now.”

Good news for those who need immediate access, as the governor’s rather ambiguous comments imply that cannabis usage among by registered users will probably be overlooked by law enforcement.

With the passage of SB 3, Pennsylvania’s next fight is for decriminalization. Currently, those caught in possession of 30 grams or less of cannabis face a misdemeanor and 30 days in jail and/or a $500 fine. More than 30 grams could mean up to a year in jail and/or a $5000 fine. Philadelphia has already decriminalized possession of 30 grams or less of cannabis back in 2014, making it the largest U.S. city to do so. Now the entire state is looking to follow.

State Representative Leslie Acosta is leading the effort, circling a memorandum seeking co-sponsors for a bill to decriminalize possession of 30 grams or less of cannabis statewide.

“The arrest and court process disrupts the lives of those charged with marijuana possession, forcing some to take time away from school, work or caring for family members to appear before a judge,” she wrote. “A misdemeanor conviction also creates barriers to opportunities like safe housing and gainful employment when it shows up on an offender’s background check.”

With an increasing amount of support in the polls for full legalization, a five percent jump in just one year to 40 percent according to a Franklin and Marshall Poll, chances are Pennsylvania will soon pass a decriminalization bill, especially with the support of Gov. Wolf.

“I believe, for a number of reasons, that we ought to decriminalize marijuana use,” Gov. Wolf said, according to WPXI News. “I think our prisons are overcrowded as a result of people going to jail for reasons that, you know, we break up families for reasons that we shouldn’t.”

While not the most eloquent of statements, the Governor’s support may help pave the way for the end of prohibition in the Keystone State.

Photo credit: Unsplash.


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