The majority-GOP state Legislature has not advanced any of the bills that would legalize recreational marijuana, even though studies show most Pennsylvanians support it and it could generate $400 million to $1 billion in tax revenue for the state.
When state Sen. Dan Laughlin was first elected to office in 2016, he was opposed to the legalization of recreational marijuana in Pennsylvania.
“It became clear to me that it is the right thing to do for Pennsylvania and it is the right time to do it,” said Laughlin (R-Erie).
His son also helped change his mind, Laughlin said, by letting him know it’s easier for minors to get marijuana in the commonwealth than it is to get alcohol. That’s when he realized it would be better and safer for the state to step in and regulate it.
“By regulating it, we could ensure that adults would know what they are buying, that it’s not laced with anything and that it could be purchased in a safe environment,” Laughlin said. “And the more I learned about it and the industry, the more open-minded I became.”
This year, he became the first Republican in the state Legislature to co-sponsor a bill to legalize recreational marjuana. State Sen. Sharif Street (D-Philadelphia), who is currently campaigning for election to the US Senate, also sponsored the bill.
Recreational marijuana is legal in 18 states and at least 36 allow it for medical use. New Jersey and New York legalized it just this year. Virginia approved its legalization starting in 2024. And the legislature in Maryland is considering a bipartisan bill.
A 2020 study from the Pennsylvania Cannabis Coalition found that roughly 62% of Pennsylvania voters support legalizing recreational marijuana for adults, including 76% of progressive voters and 54% of conservative voters.
And legalizing adult-use cannabis would generate between $400 million and $1 billion in new tax revenue for the commonwealth, according to the Pennsylvania Independent Fiscal Office.
Gov. Tom Wolf and Lt. Gov. John Fetterman have both repeatedly voiced support for legalization. And the governor has promised to sign legislation that makes it to his desk.
Other Republicans, though, have not been as open-minded as Laughlin.
“There has been such a long-standing opposition to it that it’s taking longer for people to wrap their heads around the idea,” Laughlin said. “I’m realistic about the timeline. I would be surprised if we get something passed in 2022. It’ll probably happen in 2023.”
Laughlin’s and Street’s bill is one of three proposed this year that would legalize recreational marijuana.
Senate Bill 473
The new language would allow people to legally possess about an ounce of marijuana.
State prisons would also release anyone currently serving time for nonviolent marijuana offenses and courts would expunge the records of people convicted of low-level marijuana crimes.
The state would make licenses to grow marijuana more widely available and allow existing medical dispensaries to sell marijuana to adults. It would also allow medical marijuana patients to grow up to five cannabis plants at home.
Revenue generated through a 6% sales tax and an additional 10% levy would provide loans and grants to fund social equity programs to assist any resident if they wanted to sell or grow cannabis.
The bill sits in the Senate Law and Justice Committee.
House Bill 1180
State Rep. David Delloso (D-Delaware County) introduced House Bill 1180 in April. This bill proposes amending the Liquor Code to include a section on adult-use marijuana. It would make marijuana legal for adults over the age of 21 and regulated in a manner similar to alcohol in Pennsylvania.
HB 1180 also expunges low level marijuana convictions and allows individuals to grow up to six plants privately.
The bill sits in the House Liquor Control Committee.
House Bill 2050
State Reps. Jake Wheatley, Jr. and Dan Frankel (both D-Allegheny) introduced House Bill 2050 in October. This bill would allow adults over the age of 21 to buy up to 28.38 grams of cannabis and up to 5 grams of a cannabis product in solid, liquid, or concentrated form for personal use.
Referred to as the Cannabis Regulatory Control Act, it lays out a legal and regulatory framework for the cultivation, processing, transportation, distribution, delivery, and sale of cannabis. A Cannabis Regulatory Control Board would oversee the industry.
The bill provides for direct participation by individuals who live in communities adversely impacted by the criminalization of marijuana as well as disadvantaged farmer-owned small businesses.
Other key provisions include:
- Establishing a small business recovery grant program and a communities reimagined and reinvestment program
- Imposing a 7% cultivator and processor privilege tax and a 13% cannabis excise tax on retail purchases
- Imposing a municipal tax at a rate of no more than 2% on the retail sale of cannabis in a municipality
The bill sits in the House Judiciary Committee.