Two Pennsylvania state senators introduced a bill on Feb. 24 that would allow adults at or over the age of 21 to consume marijuana and decriminalize possession of small but unspecified quantities of the drug. Gov. Tom Wolf supports marijuana legalization, and polls show that about 60% of residents share his views. If the bipartisan bill is passed and signed into law, the two senators say the resulting tax revenues could boost Pennsylvania’s coffers by about $1 billion each year.
The medical marijuana success story
Lawmakers in Pennsylvania have already legalized the medical use of marijuana, and many of the towns and cities have passed ordinances that decriminalize possession of the drug. The medical marijuana industry in Pennsylvania has already grown to $500 million per year, and it is expected to reach $1 billion per year by 2023. In addition to legalizing the recreational use of marijuana, the proposed bill would expunge the records of individuals with a nonviolent marijuana conviction.
Marijuana arrests remain high in Pennsylvania despite decriminalization ordinances. Police there made 24,305 marijuana arrests in 2018 and 21,789 marijuana arrests in 2019 even though possession of the drug is no longer a crime in Philadelphia, Allentown, Harrisburg, Erie, Pittsburgh, Lancaster or York. Advocacy groups say arrest figures are still high in Pennsylvania because police departments are not bound by decriminalization ordinances and often ignore them.
Fighting drug charges
Prosecutors, as well as politicians in Pennsylvania, are softening their positions on marijuana, and individuals arrested on drug charges may be treated compassionately if they did not commit acts of violence. Experienced criminal defense attorneys could point to legislative efforts like this proposal to convince prosecutors to take a lenient position when their clients are charged with possessing or distributing small quantities of marijuana.