Mar 16, 2023 - News

What's up with legal weed in Pennsylvania?

Illustration of a clock with cannabis leaves for hands.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

Pennsylvania is no closer to legalizing marijuana even though Democrats control both the House and governor’s mansion.

Why it matters: Pennsylvania is increasingly surrounded by states where weed is legal, which means it is losing out on tax revenue from residents who end up buying the drug elsewhere.

State of play: Both Gov. Josh Shapiro and House Democrats are supportive of legalizing cannabis, but they aren’t united behind a single proposal to do so.

  • Republicans, who have stymied legalization efforts in the past, still control the Senate — a potential roadblock even if Democrats align.

Zoom in: At least two proposals for legalization are circulating in the statehouse, which Democrats control for the first time in 12 years, but legislation hasn't been introduced.

  • One calls for selling weed at Fine Wine & Good Spirits locations, the state stores that the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board controls. It would also allow people to grow up to six plants.
  • The other proposal is broader, calling for creating a framework to control and regulate the market.

Between the lines: Shapiro has hinted at how he'd like the market to look.

  • His first budget proposal suggests a 20% wholesale tax on weed.
  • That could raise an estimated $188.8 million for the state in 2028 if sales began Jan. 1, 2025.
  • He didn't lay out a regulatory framework.

In the House: Nicole Reigelman, a spokesperson for speaker Joanna McClinton, tells Axios that the Democratic caucus supports “exploring the expansion of marijuana legalization,” but it must emphasize health and safety, social justice and equity.

  • She declined to back any of the pending proposals.

In the Senate: Kate Eckhart Flessner, a spokesperson for the GOP's Majority Leader Joe Pittman, tells Axios that any proposal must be vetted by committees.

  • “Strengthening our communities and ensuring public safety are of paramount importance to our Caucus,” she said.

Zoom out: New Jersey and New York have legalized marijuana and set up dispensaries.

  • Maryland will have legal weed starting in July, while Delaware and Ohio are advancing their proposals.

What they’re saying: Legalization stands little chance of passing this year in Pennsylvania's divided legislature, where bipartisanship is rare, says Jeff Riedy, executive director of Lehigh Valley NORML, a pro-legalization lobbying group.

  • “By not legalizing marijuana in Pennsylvania," he said, "lawmakers are forcing consumers to go over state lines to buy legal cannabis that’s tested or to the black market.”
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