Pennsylvania State Capitol lit in green to celebrate passage of medical cannabis legislation by the House of Representatives in March 2016
Poster for 1977 Pittsburgh Smoke-In

Cannabis in Pennsylvania is illegal for recreational use, but possession of small amounts is decriminalized in several of the state's largest cities. Medical use was legalized in 2016 through a bill enacted by the state legislature.

Medical use legalized (2016)[edit]

On April 17, 2016, Gov. Tom Wolf signed Senate Bill 3 to legalize the medical use of cannabis.[1] The bill allowed the use of cannabis with a physician's approval for treatment of 17 qualifying conditions listed in the bill.[2] It also set up a state-licensed system for the distribution of cannabis to patients, with the requirement (later eliminated in 2018)[3] that only non-smokable forms be sold.[4] A 5% tax rate was imposed on sales between growers, processors, and dispensaries.[5] No allowance for home cultivation was made.[6]

Senate Bill 3 passed the House by a 149-46 vote and the Senate 42–7.[6] Its primary sponsor was Republican Sen. Mike Folmer,[7] who later admitted to using cannabis during his time in office (prior to the bill's passage) in order to alleviate the effects of chemotherapy treatment.[8] Upon its enactment, Pennsylvania became the 24th state to legalize cannabis for medical use.[1]

Statewide listening tour (2019)[edit]

In December 2018, during a Q&A session with constituents on Twitter, Gov. Wolf tweeted: "I think it is time for Pennsylvania to take a serious and honest look at [legalizing] recreational marijuana."[9] One month later, Wolf announced a statewide tour by Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman to gather public input on the idea.[10] Said Wolf: "We could choose to ignore what's going on in the world and just pretend that nothing has happened, nothing has changed, or we can actually open our eyes and ears and say, 'let's go out and ask—let's find out.'"[11] The 70-stop tour (spanning all 67 counties in the state) kicked off February 11 in Harrisburg and ended May 19 in Philadelphia.[12][13]

A final report detailing the results of the listening tour was released to the public on September 25, 2019.[14] Gov. Wolf and Lt. Gov. Fetterman announced at a press conference that of the more than 10,000 people that attended the listening tour, 68% were in favor of recreational legalization and there was near unanimous support for decriminalization.[13] With the release of the report, the governor and lieutenant governor also called for three actions to be taken by the state legislature:[15]

  1. Passage of legislation to decriminalize possession of small amounts of cannabis.
  2. Passage of legislation to expunge prior cannabis convictions.
  3. Debate and consideration of legislation to legalize cannabis for recreational use.

Also at the press conference, Gov. Wolf announced for the first time his support for legalizing recreational use of cannabis.[16]

On September 3, 2020, Wolf and Fetterman held a press conference to reiterate their call for the legislature to take up a cannabis legalization bill.[17][18] They argued that legalizing cannabis could particularly aid with the state's economic recovery amid the COVID-19 pandemic.[19][20]

Municipal reforms[edit]

Jurisdictions in the below table have revised their municipal ordinances to lessen penalties for cannabis offenses. Police still retain the ability to charge individuals under state law, however. In Allentown and part of Bethlehem, police officials have said they will enforce state law only per the directive of Lehigh County District Attorney Jim Martin.[21][22][23]

Municipality Date Policy reform
Philadelphia September 2014 City council voted 13–3 to decriminalize up to 30 grams, punishable by a $25 fine.[24]
Pittsburgh December 2015 City council voted 7–2 to decriminalize up to 30 grams, punishable by a $25 fine.[25]
Harrisburg July 2016 City council voted unanimously to decriminalize small amounts, punishable by a $75 fine.[26]
State College August 2016 City council voted 5–2 to decriminalize up to 30 grams, punishable by a $250 fine.[27]
York July 2017 City council voted 4–1 to decriminalize up to 30 grams, punishable by a $100 fine.[28]
Erie January 2018 City council voted unanimously to decriminalize up to 30 grams, punishable by a $25 fine.[29]
Allentown May 2018 City council voted 4–3 to decriminalize up to 30 grams, punishable by a $25 fine for a first offense.[30]
Bethlehem June 2018 City council voted 6–0 to decriminalize up to 30 grams, punishable by a $25 fine for a first offense.[23]
Lancaster September 2018 City council voted 6–1 to decriminalize small amounts, punishable by a $25 fine for a first offense.[31]
Steelton March 2019 Borough council voted 5-0 to decriminalize up to 30 grams for a first offense, punishable by a $25–$100 fine.[32]

On January 20, 2015, Constable Ed Quiggle, Jr. of Sunbury signed the Compassionate Medical Cannabis Reform Resolution, making it official policy for the Office of Constable for the 9th Ward of the City to not enforce or cooperate in the enforcement of any acts which prohibit, penalize, or criminalize the possession, cultivation, or use of medical cannabis, hemp, cannabinoids, and other illegal or experimental drugs, becoming the first law enforcement agency in Pennsylvania, and perhaps the first in the United States, to enact such a policy.[33][34][35]


  1. ^ a b Murphy, Jan (April 17, 2016). "It's official: Medical marijuana now legal in Pennsylvania". Retrieved April 13, 2019.
  2. ^ Esack, Steve (April 13, 2016). "Pennsylvania lawmakers OK medical marijuana". The Morning Call. Retrieved April 13, 2019.
  3. ^ Wenner, David (August 1, 2018). "Pa. begins dry leaf medical marijuana sales, reminds users not to smoke it". Retrieved April 13, 2019.
  4. ^ Langley, Karen (April 18, 2016). "Medical marijuana legalized in Pennsylvania". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Retrieved April 13, 2019.
  5. ^ Peterson, Amanda (April 18, 2016). "Highlights of Pennsylvania's medical marijuana legislation". WHTM. Retrieved April 13, 2019.
  6. ^ a b Stauffer, Heather (April 17, 2016). "Medical marijuana in Pennsylvania: Everything you want to know, but are afraid to ask". LNP. Retrieved April 13, 2019.
  7. ^ Craig, Daniel (April 17, 2016). "Wolf signs medical marijuana bill into law". PhillyVoice. Retrieved April 13, 2019.
  8. ^ Mahon, Ed (December 14, 2016). "Pa. senator says he used medical marijuana despite ban". York Daily Record. Retrieved April 13, 2019.
  9. ^ Tanenbaum, Michael (December 20, 2018). "Gov. Wolf wants Pennsylvania to take 'serious and honest' look at recreational marijuana". PhillyVoice. Retrieved April 13, 2019.
  10. ^ Murphy, Jan (January 24, 2019). "Lt. Gov. John Fetterman's first official assignment: Take Pa. residents' pulse on legalizing pot". Retrieved April 13, 2019.
  11. ^ Jaeger, Kyle (January 24, 2019). "Pennsylvania Governor Announces Statewide Marijuana Legalization Listening Tour". Marijuana Moment. Retrieved April 13, 2019.
  12. ^ Thompson, Charles (February 11, 2019). "Marijuana meetings start in Harrisburg with strong showing of support for legal pot". Retrieved April 13, 2019.
  13. ^ a b "Lieutenant Governor Fetterman Statewide Cannabis Listening Tour Report" (PDF). July 2019. Retrieved September 26, 2019.
  14. ^ "Gov. Wolf, Lt. Gov. Fetterman Announce Report, Next Steps After Adult-Use Recreational Marijuana Tour" (Press release). Harrisburg: September 25, 2019. Retrieved September 26, 2019.
  15. ^ Jaeger, Kyle (September 25, 2019). "Pennsylvania Governor Comes Out In Support Of Marijuana Legalization". Marijuana Moment. Retrieved September 26, 2019.
  16. ^ Murphy, Jan (September 25, 2019). "Gov. Tom Wolf calls for legalizing recreational marijuana in Pennsylvania". Retrieved September 26, 2019.
  17. ^ Tierney, Jacob (September 3, 2020). "Gov. Wolf renews call for legal recreational marijuana". Retrieved September 4, 2020.
  18. ^ Adlin, Ben (September 3, 2020). "Pennsylvania Governor Slams GOP Lawmakers For Not Legalizing Marijuana". Marijuana Moment. Retrieved September 4, 2020.
  19. ^ "Gov. Wolf and Lt. Gov. Fetterman Renew Call for Legislature to Take up Legalization of Adult-Use Cannabis to Help with COVID Recovery, Restorative Justice" (Press release). September 3, 2020.
  20. ^ DeJesus, Ivey (September 3, 2020). "Legalized marijuana would raise hundreds of millions of dollars for Pa., Wolf and Fetterman say". Retrieved September 4, 2020.
  21. ^ Opilo, Emily (May 25, 2018). "Allentown mayor signs marijuana decriminalization law, but city police won't enforce". The Morning Call. Retrieved April 14, 2019.
  22. ^ Opilo, Emily (May 30, 2018). "Q&A: Why Allentown's marijuana decriminalization law isn't being enforced". The Morning Call. Retrieved April 14, 2019.
  23. ^ a b Bresswein, Kurt (June 27, 2018). "Busted for weed in Bethlehem? Charge will depend on where". Retrieved April 13, 2019.
  24. ^ Cherney, Max (September 14, 2014). "Philadelphia Is Decriminalizing Marijuana Possession". Vice News. Retrieved April 13, 2019.
  25. ^ Kearney, Laila (December 21, 2015). "Pittsburgh to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana". Reuters. Retrieved April 13, 2019.
  26. ^ Vendel, Christine (July 6, 2016). "It's official: Harrisburg council reduces penalties for pot possession". Retrieved April 13, 2019.
  27. ^ Rushton, Geoff (August 1, 2016). "Marijuana Possession No Longer a Misdemeanor in State College". Retrieved April 13, 2019.
  28. ^ Addy, Jason (July 18, 2017). "York City Council passes marijuana decriminalization". The York Dispatch. Retrieved April 13, 2019.
  29. ^ Flowers, Kevin (January 18, 2018). "Erie City Council OK's reduced marijuana possession penalties". Retrieved April 13, 2019.
  30. ^ Bresswein, Kurt (May 25, 2018). "Mayor signs Allentown law decriminalizing marijuana". Retrieved April 13, 2019.
  31. ^ Paul, Ashley (September 25, 2018). "Lancaster City votes to decriminalize marijuana". WPMT. Retrieved April 13, 2019.
  32. ^ Herrington, A.J. (March 20, 2019). "Pennsylvania Town Decriminalizes Marijuana, Sees Future in Legal Pot". High Times. Retrieved July 22, 2019.
  33. ^ "Constable's new policy designed to protect medical marijuana patients and privacy rights". Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Independent Gazette. January 22, 2015. Retrieved December 22, 2015.
  34. ^ "A Sunbury constable is fighting pot laws". WKOK. January 22, 2015. Archived from the original on September 11, 2015. Retrieved December 22, 2015.
  35. ^ "Resolution 2015-1 the Compassionate Medical Cannabis Reform Resolution". Office of Constable for the 9th Ward of the City of Sunbury, PA. January 20, 2015. Retrieved December 22, 2015.

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