The Lead

Marijuana Policy Project names Pennsylvania one of 19 states with worst weed laws

By: - March 22, 2022 3:47 pm

By Jordana Rosenfeld

Pennsylvania’s cannabis prohibition laws are among the worst in the country, according to a new report by the Marijuana Policy Project called “Behind the Times: The 19 States Where a Joint Can Still Land You in Jail.”

Despite record-high levels of public support for legalization and the fact that the state’s bigger municipalities such as Pittsburgh and Philadelphia have already passed measures to decriminalize cannabis possession, “There’s still a ton of arrests happening for cannabis possession” in Pennsylvania, the organization’s senior legislative counsel, DeVaughn Ward, said.

At the state level, lawmakers “have not fully dealt with [decriminalization], and the federal government has not fully dealt with that,”  House Democratic Whip  Jordan Harris, D-Philadelphia, said during a Tuesday press conference. “Let’s be clear,” Harris continued, “in Pennsylvania, it is the government that sells the alcohol. We are selling this product, we are selling this substance that we know is more harmful than marijuana.”

According to the report, under current law, Pennsylvania imposes up to 30 days’ imprisonment and/or a fine of up to $500 for possession of up to 30 grams of cannabis (just over an ounce).

“Black Pennsylvanians are three times more likely to be arrested for cannabis possession than white people in the state,” the report notes.

Earlier this year, the state Senate held the commonwealth’s first hearings on legalizing adult use cannabis.

Senate Law and Justice Committee Chair Mike Regan, R-York, a former U.S. Marshal, made the case for a legalization bill he is crafting with Rep. Amen Brown, D-Philadelphia.,

Sen. Dan Laughlin,  R-Erie, is also sponsoring a legalization bill. Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf  has called for legalization for several years. Pittsburgh legislators have also introduced cannabis legalization legislation.

In 2020, former state representative and Pittsburgh Mayor Ed Gainey’s current chief of staff Jake Wheatley, and state Rep. Dan Frankel (D-Squirrel Hill) announced a bill that would not only legalize marijuana, but would expunge the records for people charged with non-violent, cannabis-related offenses.

The report’s release comes in recognition of the 50th anniversary of the first report by the federal Shafer Commission, which, in an unexpected move, argued in 1972 that possession of small amounts of marijuana should be decriminalized. Cannabis legalization advocates call the Shafer report “perhaps the single most important step” to catalyze the last 50 years’ progress towards decriminalizing and/or legalizing cannabis.”

Cannabis prohibition has failed, MPP has argued , and the group has called for cannabis legalization nationwide, although it recognizes that the most likely route to that goal is through state governments.

Jordana Rosenfeld is a reporter for Pittsburgh City Paper, where this story first appeared.

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