When Pennsylvania adopts legal adult-use marijuana, the industry is going to feel it. As the 5th most-populous state in the nation (pop. 12.9 million) and home to several universities that are already leading the way in cannabis research, legalization will come natural to the Keystone State.
Even though current Democratic Governor Tom Wolf ran for reelection in 2018 without taking a clear position on legalization, he spoke up recently after his Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman did a 98-day listening tour around the state and found overwhelming support for legalization.
Advocates greeted the news with enthusiasm, even as they acknowledge that true reform may still be a long way off.
“We’re very very excited that the governor took the result of Lieutenant Governor Fetterman’s listening tour seriously,” said Patrick Nightingale, a defense attorney and head of the Pittsburgh chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML).
The state’s largest newspaper is also on board with legalization
“We agree with those residents, and with the governor,” wrote the Philadelphia Inquirer in an opinion piece. “Legalizing recreational marijuana could bring economic activity, improve public health, and make Pennsylvania a more just commonwealth.”
Pennsylvania decriminalized cannabis in 2014, legalized medical marijuana in 2016 and opened its first dispensary in 2018. The state now has 20 dispensaries that serve nearly 200,000 registered MMJ patients, showing a clear demand for cannabis.
Arrests still on the rise
Meanwhile, as the number of weed arrests dropped in Philadelphia last year, there were more arrests for possession statewide in 2018 than any of the previous 10 years, according to the data collected by state police and FBI and reported by the Sharon Herald.
Andy Hoover, a spokesman for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), called the situation a criminal justice reform issue.
“It is urgent that police stop arresting people for marijuana possession,” Hoover said. “There’s no public gain from prohibition, and there’s a lot of harm. There are collateral consequences for the person arrested, and enforcing prohibition costs taxpayers tens of millions of dollars every year.”
Like most states, cannabis prohibition has had a devastating impact on people of color in Pennsylvania.
This pattern reflects the national trend in which people of color are nearly 4 times more likely, and in some cases more, to get arrested for pot possession than white people, even though they all consume at similar rates.
National Expungement Week got traction in Pennsylvania
Shortly after this year’s National Expungement Week, September 21-28, 2019, Gov. Wolf announced a new initiative to expedite the expungement of marijuana convictions.
The program will allow individuals with minor marijuana convictions to apply for a pardon.
"This will allow people who have been convicted and have paid their debt to society to finally move on with their lives," Gov. Wolf said