In April 2016, after efforts from lobbying groups, appeals from state citizens, and a push from the state legislature, Pennsylvania Governor Tim Wolf signed a bill that legalized medical marijuana throughout the state.
The new law specifies 17 conditions for which using marijuana as medical treatment is now legal, including cancer, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, AIDS, and more.
However, the Department of Health noted that it will take until early 2018 to make marijuana available for medicinal purposes to qualified Pennsylvania residents.
Now, just a few months later, Governor Wolf has called for the state to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana possession, claiming that too many people are going to prison for a crime that has been downgraded by prosecutors in recent years.
In an interview with a local news station, Governor Wolf claimed that imprisonment for marijuana possession is “destroying families and it’s hurting our economy,” asserting that decriminalization is the first step to combating the issue.
Under current state law, the maximum penalty for marijuana possession in Pennsylvania is 30 days in jail, though prosecutors typically try to avoid using jail as a normal recourse.
Despite Governor Wolf’s stance on decriminalization, he did not state that he would endorse full-scale legalization for recreational use of marijuana as seen in several other U.S. states in recent years.
The current bill regarding decriminalization, which will be introduced by Rep. Ed Gainey (D-24) of Allegheny County, would allow Pennsylvanians to carry up to “thirty grams or less of marijuana or eight grams or less of hashish” without fear of being indicted on criminal possession charges.
Pennsylvania defense attorney Amato Sanita commented, “Though this is by no means full recreational legalization, it is a clear effort put forth by Pennsylvania politicians to decriminalize possession in the hopes of preventing unnecessary jail sentences.”
While Republicans control the Pennsylvania legislature right now, passing and implementing such a bill could prove difficult in the immediate future. No Republican state legislators have made moves to consider decriminalization proposals.
However, the governor’s recent voicing of support has garnered significant attention, and could prove to be a powerful influence.