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When Will Pennsylvania Legalize Adult-Use Cannabis?

While there is strong support for it, Pennsylvania is falling behind its neighbors by not passing adult-use cannabis legalization.

Neighboring New Jersey, New York, Maryland, and Ohio have all legalized adult-use cannabis. So, Pennsylvania lawmakers are beginning to recognize the lost financial opportunities with recreational cannabis.

For non-medical consumers in Pennsylvania, the only option for now is going across state lines and spending money elsewhere.

With so much momentum behind the industry, where does Pennsylvania stand with adult-use cannabis?

Legalization efforts in Pennsylvania come about through bipartisan political support, grassroots advocacy groups, and entrepreneurs willing to invest millions of dollars in startup costs.

Pennsylvania Adult-use Cannabis Legalization

Governor Josh Shapiro (D) recently included the legalization and regulation of adult-use cannabis in the state’s budget spending. In his annual budget address, he proposed that adult-use cannabis be legalized on July 1, 2024, and for retail sales to begin in 2025. Nonetheless, Shapiro’s proposal must go through the appropriate legislative channels to become a reality.

Senator Sharif Street (D-3) and Senator Dan Laughlin (R-49) introduced SB 846 into the legislature last July to legalize adult-use cannabis sales.

State Senators Wayne Fontana (D-49), John Kane (D-9), and Tim Kearney (D-26) co-sponsored it.

Street has been pushing for Pennsylvania adult-use cannabis legalization since at least 2020.

According to the advocating group the Marijuana Policy Project, “With support from the governor, the House’s Democratic majority, and some powerful supporters in the Senate Republican caucus, there is a real chance for legalization in the Keystone State in the coming years.”

If Laughlin can convince his fellow Republicans in the Republican-controlled State Senate, then it has a legitimate chance of passage.

Pennsylvania’s Strong Medical Cannabis Program

Several important forces are converging to bring Pennsylvania to the brink of legalizing adult-use cannabis. Looking at the current state of the medical industry in Pennsylvania sheds further insight into the likelihood of adult-use legalization.

Since the medical market is functional and growing, it’s a good indicator that a transition into recreational cannabis will be both smooth and easy. For example, Pennsylvania has one of the highest percentages of registered medical cannabis patients in the country.

While PA Act 16 legalized medical cannabis statewide, local control remains strong. Nonetheless, currently, 38 counties have operational retail cannabis stores or dispensaries, while  29 counties in Pennsylvania don’t.

Pennsylvania’s medical cannabis industry was legalized when the Medical Marijuana Act (PA Act 16) was signed into law in 2016. Afterward, according to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania website, “on February 15, 2018, medical marijuana became available for patients at dispensaries across the commonwealth.”

Strong Pennsylvania Medical Cannabis Patient Count

Under PA Act 16, the Office of Medical Marijuana regulates safe access and business opportunities in the state of Pennsylvania. To get a medical marijuana card in Pennsylvania, patients with qualifying conditions must register with the marijuana registry and get certified by a licensed physician.

Looking at total patient counts within certain populations is a great way to assess public sentiments on legalization. According to the Marijuana Policy Project, in 2022, Pennsylvania had 712,421 registered medical cannabis patients out of 12,972,008 people, representing 5.49% of the total population. Of all the states with medical cannabis programs, Pennsylvania has the 3rd highest per capita patient ratio. They only trail Oklahoma at 9.7% and Maine at 7.66%.

Pennsylvania recognizes 24 qualifying conditions for medical cannabis. While these conditions include terminal illnesses like HIV and cancer, they also include psychological disorders that are much harder to prove. More often than not, looser laws on qualifying conditions represent favorable public opinions for cannabis. Over 25% of the medical cannabis cards issued in Pennsylvania are for PTSD and anxiety.

When the medical industry first launched in 2018, the Office of Medical Marijuana issued 50 Pennsylvania medical cannabis dispensary licenses. Each license holder could open 3 storefronts for a total of 150 possible dispensaries.

2021 Medical Cannabis Expansion

The legislature amended important rules with the passage of PA Act 44 in 2021 to expand the Pennsylvania medical cannabis program.

With the passage of PA Act 44, the number of dispensaries operating in Pennsylvania has expanded to 161. So, there are about 4,500 registered medical cannabis patients per dispensary in Pennsylvania.

Other key changes in PA Act 44 included new qualifying conditions, the increased size of legal sales from 30-day to 90-day supplies, and legal curbside sales.

It was significant that the Act removed certain references to cannabis as a Schedule I narcotic. According to the Pennsylvania Medical Society, “Because of these removals, Pennsylvania’s Medical Marijuana Program will continue regardless of the federal scheduling of marijuana.”

Grower & Processor Licenses

The Office of Medical Marijuana originally issued 25 grower/processor licenses. Only 5 were issued dispensary permits for full vertical integration to grow, make, and sell medical cannabis.

These businesses are able to cultivate medical cannabis and process it into other products, like extracts.

There are about 30,000 medical patients per grower/processor business in Pennsylvania.

In December 2023, the Pennsylvania Senate approved SB 773. The law allows every cannabis business license holder in the state to vertically integrate. As the

Growers can apply for and win a license to open dispensaries. In addition, independent dispensaries can now allow win growing and process licensing licenses.

While adult-use cannabis was once a controversial topic only discussed in liberal pockets and the West, it has been rapidly accepted by the mainstream in recent years. In fact, in a recent Gallup poll, 70% of Americans favor legalization on the federal level.

If you want any information about the Pennsylvania market, please get in touch. I’d love to help.

By Claudia Post

Claudia Post is an entrepreneur, pioneer groundbreaker, speaker, generous introducer, and power connector. Having recognized cannabis as the next frontier 13 years ago, Claudia founded MOST Consulting Group. It is a one-stop shop for cannabis businesses, providing marketing, advertising, design, and strategy for all verticals in the cannabis industry.

Twenty years ago, Claudia founded Diamond Transportation Group, a same-day, time-critical delivery service. Having founded Diamond at her dining room table with four people, she subsequently opened twelve locations up and down the East Coast, supplying trucking, pick-pack-ship, chain of custody, logistics, supply chain, and a variety of other services to her clients.

From her humble beginnings, she grew to twelve locations and became a multi-million-dollar company. She has a local, regional, and national presence. She is noted to be a subject matter expert in transportation and logistics. With her expertise in transportation, most recently she founded Scarlet Express, a state-approved delivery service that provides discreet, secure, and expert cannabis supply chain management in every state where it’s legal.

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