Still hazy, but here’s what Pennsylvania might look like if legal weed becomes a thing
Plans might still go up in smoke, but two state senators are pushing for home growing, home delivery and public pot lounges.
Two senators have introduced a bill that would legalize marijuana in the state, giving Pennsylvanians a look at what it would mean to free the weed in the commonwealth. From growing it at home, to at-your-door delivery services, Senate Bill 350 is nothing short of a dream for cannabis advocates.
But this still doesn’t mean that marijuana will be readily available or an instant presence on the streets across the state. It’s also not a free pass to get high whenever or wherever you want.
The bill, introduced by Democratic state senators Sharif Street and Daylin Leach, faces some obstacles — mainly, that it lacks any GOP support in a Republican-controlled Senate. But, if the bill were to pass, Pennsylvania would become the 11th state to legalize marijuana.
Meaning what exactly? We deconstructed Senate Bill 350 to break that down for you with these questions and answers. Take a look.
Will Pennsylvania restrict marijuana use by age?
Only people age 21 and older would be able to purchase, possess and use marijuana and marijuana-infused edibles.
Can I smoke marijuana in public?
No. Public consumption of cannabis would still be prohibited under the bill.
Where can I buy recreational marijuana in Pa.?
Recreational marijuana would be available for purchase at dispensaries — much like medical marijuana — and they could also set up lounges attached to the space for people to use cannabis publicly.
A permit to open a dispensary would cost $5,000 and could be renewed for $5,000 annually.
STORY CONTINUES BELOW VIDEO.
Doesn’t Pennsylvania already have rules for medical marijuana?
The state does have a head start on the rules because it created the infrastructure to begin regulating the medical marijuana industry since the Legislature passed bills to oversee and tax medical weed in 2016. And after a nearly two-year wait, the state began to open dispensaries for medical marijuana in 2018.
Medical marijuana dispensaries could sell recreational marijuana from the same sales counter, but they would need to keep inventory and supply chains separate.
Will Pennsylvania allow home delivery of marijuana?
To get it from dispensaries to consumers, people can deliver cannabis by foot, car, train, bike or whatever transportation they please. Each delivery person would be required to pay $50 annually for a permit.
Where can I smoke pot in public in Pa.?
The senate bill would allow marijuana lounges — public spaces for people to use cannabis. Lounges can be independent, or owned by and attached to dispensaries, but dispensaries cannot sell cannabis. A lounge permit would cost $1,000 a year.
An admission fee can be charged, but just like how you bring your own alcohol to a BYOB, you have to bring your own weed to the lounge.
How much will recreational pot cost in Pa.?
That’s subject to change based on products and quantity obviously, but the taxes on recreational marijuana products would be capped at 17.5%.
Can I grow marijuana in my house in Pa.?
With an annual $50 permit, an individual can grow up to 10 plants in their home simultaneously. Homegrowers can keep the cannabis they cultivate for personal use or give it away, but they cannot sell it or trade it.
What about businesses that want to grow marijuana in Pa.?
Small businesses can grow up to 150 cannabis plants to sell to processors and dispensaries, but they won’t be able to sell directly to consumers. An annual permit for a microgrower would cost $250.
To prevent large businesses from monopolizing the market, a grower’s crop can be no more than 150,000 square feet of outdoor space or 60,000 square feet of indoor space. Applications would cost $30,000, and could be renewed annually for $10,000.
How will Pennsylvania handle marijuana convictions?
All criminal convictions for cannabis-related offenses would be expunged from a person’s record, and anyone incarcerated for such offenses would receive commutations.
Cash crop: How to grow medical marijuana in Pennsylvania
The green stuff is officially legal for medicinal purposes. And entrepreneurs know it can bring them some serious green, too.
In addition to the thousands of Pennsylvanians waiting for legal medical cannabis to treat their diseases, another group is waiting in the wings for what happens now that it’s legal: Entrepreneurs, business owners and potential growers.
“People imagine that [dispensaries] look like tattoo parlors or check cashing places, like really shady, and it’s not,” said Steven Auerbach, managing member of Keystone Cannabis Law, a Montgomery County-based regulatory compliance and medical marijuana license acquisition firm. “These places are so clean you could eat off the floor. They’re warm and welcoming. They’re secure, and they’re not on every street corner.”
Before Pennsylvania became the 24th state to legalize medical marijuana, a state Senate panel estimated the legislation would spur a new industry that could one day net more than $600 million a year statewide (though more conservative estimates say it’ll be something like $125 million in year one.)
Growers, processors and dispensary owners stand to make a pretty penny, too. In Colorado, annual sales for medical marijuana were nearly $4,000 for every person with an ID card to obtain it. Business owners in Pennsylvania selling to people with 17 different conditions are better off than some other states that passed bills that cover far fewer diseases.
The Department of Health — which oversees the program in Pennsylvania — says it’ll be another 18+ months before the program is in place and an estimated 200,000 patients can start obtaining medical marijuana. Between now and then, an advisory board will determine how the state will choose which business owners will be selected to operate dispensaries as well as growing and processing operations.
Getting licensed won’t be cheap.
Fifty dispensary operators in Pennsylvania will be licensed. Each one can open three locations. They’ll pay $5,000 just to apply to be a dispenser, then fork over a $30,000 registration fee.
Total cost for dispensary operator: $35,000
Growers and processors will pay $10,000 to apply; the 25 selected will toss in $200,000 to the state for a license that has a $10,000 annual renewal fee. They’re also required to certify to the state that they’ve got $2,000,000 in capital, $500,000 of which must be on deposit with the bank. In addition, growers and processors will pay a 5 percent tax and the bill stipulates that cost can’t be passed onto patients.
Total cost for a grower/processor: $2,210,000 in year 1
While the $200,000 registration fee for growers and processors seem high, it’s not all that far off of what restaurant operators or bar owners might pay for a top-tier liquor license in Pennsylvania. But this time instead of purchasing one from the marketplace, growers and processors will be paying the marijuana program that operates something like the Liquor Control Board does.
There are other high costs associated with operating a marijuana-related facility, specifically growing operations. Auerbach said because of a perceived high chance of fire and theft, insurance rates are through the roof and sometimes just getting insured proves difficult.
High up-front costs exist too for growers: They’ll have to set up secure indoor growing facilities. (So no, this won’t be open fields of cannabis growing in the middle of Lancaster County.) A Harrisburg-based lawyer who specializes in regulated substances told The (Allentown) Morning Call that some in the industry expect up-front costs for growers and processors to reach $10 million. Auerbach, who has visited legal medical marijuana operations in other states, said most people wouldn’t be able to recognize a marijuana growing facility if they saw it.
The state law requires the marijuana be grown indoors and includes electronic locking systems, electronic surveillance and other features deemed required by the Department of Health.
But for some determined to be selected by the state as a licensee, the benefits far outweigh the high costs.
The perks of growing legal weed
Thomas Perko, a partner in Keystone Organic Farms, a western PA farm, already has a full business plan and a lease agreement to grow medical marijuana 100 feet underground, he told The Patriot-News last June.
Catherine Frederico owns Creative Accord, LLC, a Bristol-based independent laboratory that conducts research on food, essential oils, flavors and fragrances. Dr. Justin Frederico, a chemist in the lab, said he and his wife hope to partner with a growing operation in order to apply to process medical cannabis so the company can provide testing services to businesses and consumers.
Frederico said he and his wife are experts in the study of perfumes in plants and have been asked a number of times by businesses and consumers to study the plant. Once the medical marijuana program is finalized in Pennsylvania, the owners — if they’re approved for a license — plan to hire more employees and move into a larger facility for testing.
“This is going to be a big deal to our company,” he said. “Medical marijuana is changing the culture that our state has and our country has right before our eyes. And we’re going to be part of it.”
Few experts in the field have guesses for the number of companies that might apply to be licensed as dispensers, growers and processors. And it’s unclear still how the state will choose which companies get involved.
Auerbach, who consulted state senators who drafted the law, said the the advisory board can choose to go one of a few ways to select licensees:
- A lottery system, similar to how Arizona distributed medical marijuana business licenses.
- A “qualified lottery” where people submit applications and are entered into a lottery if they meet bare bones requirements.
- A competitive process where a board reviews applications and scores each business based on their application. Those with the highest scores would be awarded licenses.
Auerbach said he expects Pennsylvania to go with a competitive process rather than a lottery. And within six months, the board is expected to agree on preliminary regulations.
For now, business owners who qualify will be massaging their business plans, getting application questions answered, shopping for insurance and likely engaging with lawyers to ensure compliance not only in getting a license, but in keeping it.
They’re also reaching out to doctors who have to get a permit themselves to recommend medical marijuana to patients. The economics behind the state’s newest cash crop won’t work if enough doctors don’t get certified to recommend the drug to patients.
“At the end of the day, this is a medical issue, this is not a political issue,” Auerbach said. “At the end of my life, I don’t want to be in hospice somewhere and somebody in Harrisburg telling me what I can and cannot put in my body. A doctor should be making these decisions.”
Want some more? Explore other Cannabis in PA stories.
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After seeing record medical marijuana sales in the last few years, it seems like an easy choice for Pennsylvania to finally legalize recreational use this year. Last February, a bipartisan bill seeking to decriminalize and legalize adult-use cannabis was filed by senators Sharif Street (D-Philadelphia) and Dan Laughlin (R-Erie) who said that the legislation could bring the state an estimated $1 billion in tax revenue.
According to Sen. Street’s website, the Laughlin-Street Bipartisan Adult Use Marijuana Legalization Bill also aims to establish a regulated marijuana industry that will generate new jobs and promote social and economic equity reforms, among others. It will also give qualified patients in the state the right to grow up to five plants at home.
The bill may have a good fighting chance of getting signed into law this year. While the measure will have to get through a Republican-controlled legislature, this is also the first time a Republican co-sponsored a recreational marijuana legalization bill. Sen. Laughlin had previously been opposed to recreational cannabis but recently changed his position, saying that “As the marijuana movement reaches Pennsylvania, legalization must be done the right way.” The senator even clarified that the move to legalize is “just following the will of the people,” and is not designed specifically to raise revenue. Recent poll results seem to support this since in May last year, as much as 62% of Pennsylvania voters were ok with the idea of legal sales of adult-use marijuana in the state.
Once the bill clears its hurdles in the legislature, it is practically a done deal since Gov. Tom Wolf made it clear in his budget address that legalization is one of his priorities for this year. The governor remarked that his state “cannot get left behind” after it’s neighbor New Jersey completely legalized marijuana in last year’s elections.
Overview of Pennsylvania Marijuana Laws
While recreational marijuana is still illegal in the Keystone State, it is said that its lax medical marijuana law has made cannabis legal for practically everybody.
- Possession – Simple possession is a misdemeanor in Pennsylvania but first convictions are eligible for conditional release. Subsequent offenses may get twice the penalty.
- Up to 30 g – prison sentence of up to 30 days and a maximum fine of $500
- More than 30 g – prison sentence of up to one year and a maximum fine of $5000
- Distribution of up to 30 g without remuneration – a misdemeanor punishable by a prison sentence of up to 30 days and a maximum fine of $500
- Selling more than 30 g – a felony punishable by a prison sentence of 2.5 to 5 years and a $15,000 fine for a first offense.
- Delivery within 1,000 ft of a school or within 250 ft. of a playground – 2 to 4 years in prison.
- Distribution to a minor – a felony with double the penalties upon conviction.
- Cultivation – Illegally growing marijuana in Pennsylvania, specifically possession with intent to deliver less than 10 plants is a felony.
- Any amount – a prison sentence of 2.5 to 5 years and a $15,000 fine for a first offense.
History of Marijuana in Pennsylvania
Sen. Laughlin recently remarked that “Pennsylvania has virtually already legalized marijuana through the medical program. All you have to say is that you have a bad back and you’re in.”
This aptly describes the state of marijuana in Pennsylvania, which has gotten on fairly well without legalizing recreational marijuana since Gov. Tom Wolf signed SB 3 back in 2016. Today, the state’s medical cannabis market is already one of the biggest in the nation.
Although SB 3 allowed patients with any of the 17 qualifying conditions to use cannabis upon the approval of their physician, it initially only permitted the sales of non-smokable forms of marijuana. This restriction was removed in 2018 and substitute therapy for opiate addiction was also added as a qualifying condition. However, home cultivation of any kind remained illegal.
Gov. Wolf, who is an ardent marijuana supporter, also signed into law HB 163 which repealed the Solomon–Lautenberg amendment, a federal law enacted in 1990 that called for the suspension of the driver’s license of anyone who commits a drug offense, regardless if a motor vehicle was involved in the offense.
Aside from the legalization bill co-sponsored with Sen. Laughlin, Sen. Street also introduced earlier this year SB 107, a decriminalization bill that will lower simple possession and distribution to a summary offense punishable by a $25 civil fine. It will also bring down the penalty for smoking marijuana in public to a $100 civil fine. It is worth noting that a number of municipalities have already decriminalized several years before the introduction of this bill. Philadelphia was the first one in 2014 to reduce the penalty of possession of up to 30 grams to a $25 fine. Pittsburgh followed in 2015, Harrisburg down to a $75 fine and State College $250 in 2016, York down to $100 in 2017, Erie down to $25 while Allentown, Bethlehem, and Lancaster the same amount for the first offense in 2018. Steelton set the fine at $25 to $100 on the first offense in 2019, while just last year, Delaware County set its fine at $50 and Carlisle at $25.
Marijuana home cultivation laws outside of Pennsylvania
How does Pennsylvania’s marijuana laws compare with home growing laws in other US states? Check out our post on Marijuana Growing Laws in the United States.
FAQs about marijuana legalization in Pennsylvania
Adult-use cannabis is still illegal in Pennsylvania.
None. Home cultivation of recreational cannabis is not yet allowed in Pennsylvania.
Medical marijuana has been made legal in Pennsylvania since 2017.
A bipartisan bill that seeks to legalize recreational marijuana was filed earlier this year by Sen. Sharif Street (D) and Sen. Dan Laughlin (R). The bill seeks to establish a regulated marijuana industry that also includes provisions that will promote social and economic equity reforms, and give qualified patients in the state the right to grow up to five plants at home.
Sen. Street also filed a decriminalization bill, SB 107, which seeks to reduce simple possession and distribution to a summary offense punishable by a $25 civil fine. It will also lower the penalty for smoking marijuana in public to a $100 civil fine.
None yet since it is still illegal to cultivate cannabis for medical or recreational purposes in Pennsylvania.
Pennsylvania residents are not yet allowed to cultivate marijuana at home.
Growing marijuana in Pennsylvania is still illegal for residents of all ages.
Opponents of marijuana in Pennsylvania might as well wave the white flag as early as this year since the state seems to be destined to legalize this year. Not like there’s a big opposition in the state, since polls have suggested that as much as 70% of voters already support adult-use cannabis. Since the bill is bipartisan, it is also expected to draw some support from Republicans, which is a major step forward. However, state party leaders have reportedly expressed their opposition to the idea, saying that Gov. Wolf should not be trying to legalize a drug during an opioid crisis. Nevertheless, external pressure is mounting and soon enough, Pennsylvania will be surrounded by neighbors with burgeoning recreational marijuana industries which will draw tax revenue away and cause law enforcement problems if the state fails to update its marijuana laws.