Could Pennsylvania Legalize Recreational Cannabis in 2023?

February 6, 2023

Devin Malone


Historically, Pennsylvania has not been considered a “state to watch” regarding the legalization of recreational adult use cannabis. That could change in 2023 with Democrat Josh Shapiro’s inauguration as the state’s newest governor. His term follows those of former democratic Governor Tom Wolfe. This brings momentum for potential efforts to legalize adult use cannabis and advance similar industries such as hemp and cannabidiol (“CBD”). Pennsylvania could also be feeling the pressure to keep up with neighboring states such as Maryland, New York, and New Jersey, who continue to legalize recreational adult use cannabis and establish private markets. Ohio, another bordering state, is also expected to have cannabis on the ballot again this year after a ballot measure was blocked in 2022.  

Pennsylvania has been responsive to shifts in cannabis legislation. In 2016, the State legalized medical marijuana, and dispensaries started serving patients two years later in 2018. In its first year, the Medical Marijuana Program totaled $132 million in sales, bringing Pennsylvania over $2 million in tax revenue. Since then, these numbers have only continued to grow with sales topping over $900 million between 2020-2021. These numbers are projected to grow into the billions through 2025, and the state legislature intends to continue supporting the industry through legislation. Recent bipartisan efforts have been proposed to expand Pennsylvania’s medical marijuana market. The proposed legislation from Republican Senator Mike Regan and Democratic Senator James Brewster will include eliminating the need for renewing medical marijuana cards and eliminating the list of qualifying conditions, essentially allowing patients to receive a prescription from any doctor authorized to prescribe controlled substances.  

The spirit of bipartisanship in Pennsylvania does not stop at medical marijuana. Early in 2022, for the first time in the state’s history, Pennsylvania Senators from both political parties held a hearing on the legalization of recreational adult use cannabis. The Senate Law and Justice Committee held three hearings with the intent of gathering and offering information to be used in drafting a bill to legalize recreational adult use cannabis. Although no legislation was proposed in 2022, Wolfe announced the PA Marijuana Pardon Project, a joint effort with former Lieutenant Governor, now U.S. Senator, John Fetterman. This was a special program that pardoned hundreds of Pennsylvanians with only marijuana related convictions.  

Currently, the Shapiro administration is showing its support for the hemp industry. On January 29, 2023, Pennsylvania’s acting Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding recently announced that $200,000 in grants will be awarded to further Pennsylvania’ hemp industry. These grants will be awarded to three agricultural nonprofits and are intended to fund projects aimed at growing fiber and food hemp markets, sales, and overall awareness in Pennsylvania. While some of the grant money has already been awarded, qualified nonprofits may apply for grants online through the PA Department of Community and Economic Development until application period closes on Tuesday, February 28, 2023.  

These programs are neither the beginning nor the end of Pennsylvania’s efforts to further the hemp industry. To date, hemp-specific grant investments have topped $1.12 million. In addition to the department’s recent grants, Redding also called for proposals from non-profits for an additional $392,000 in grants to be awarded in March 2023. The federal 2018 Farm Bill authorized the production of hemp and removed hemp and hemp seeds from the DEA’s schedule of Controlled Substances; however, federal funding was still not available. As a result, Pennsylvania’s Farm Bill has assisted the hemp industry by creating Pennsylvania Specialty Crop Block grants to award funding for hemp when federal funding was not available.  

These pro-cannabis and hemp efforts are not expected to halt under the Shapiro administration. Throughout his campaign, Shapiro advocated for the legalization of recreational adult use cannabis. While no efforts have been proposed yet, the new administration’s recent action in the hemp industry could offer some hope not only for hemp but for cannabis and CBD as well. As such, Pennsylvania could see reform for recreational adult use cannabis in the near future. Even more, with the 2018 Farm Bill expiring this year, there is optimism that the 2023 Farm Bill will address and bring more advancement to hemp, CBD, and similar industries 

While many Pennsylvania state Republicans have said cannabis legalization is not a top priority, with efforts from the new administration and state legislature, in addition to pressure for neighboring states, Pennsylvania could be a “state to watch” for legalization of recreational adult use cannabis in 2023.  

The views and opinions expressed in the article represent the view of the authors and not necessarily the official view of Clark Hill PLC. Nothing in this article constitutes professional legal advice nor is it intended to be a substitute for professional legal advice. 


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