Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf made statements this week indicating his support for policies that would decriminalize use and small amounts of cannabis possession.
“There are too many people who are going to prison because of the use of very modest amounts or carry modest amounts of marijuana, and that is clogging up our prisons, it’s destroying families and it’s hurting our economy, so I think decriminalization is the first step”, Governor Wolf said in an interview.
The Governor’s position is not a surprising one. City Councils in Pennsylvania’s three largest cities, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and most recently, the state Capitol, Harrisburg, have all approved legislation to further allow law enforcement to use discretion when dealing with use or possession of small amounts of cannabis. Law enforcement in those cities now have the option to write non-traffic citations for use/ and or possession of small amounts of cannabis.
Legislation differs slightly in each city with citations being as low as $25 for possession of a small amount in Pittsburgh to a $150 fine in Harrisburg for public use. Having a state law that would provide a universal policy on use and small amounts is one that the Pennsylvania state legislature has had some minor interest in.
As recent as this June, the Pennsylvania House Judiciary committee had on its agenda a Senate bill that was to be amended with language that would provide the same enforcement discretion on use and small amounts state-wide. The bill was not considered during the committee meeting and still remains in House Judiciary committee.
Pennsylvania’s state legislature is currently in recess and will be coming back into session at the end of September. The state House is scheduled for two weeks of voting session in September (the Senate only one week in September) with both chambers scheduled for two weeks of voting session in October before adjourning for the General Election in November.
Even though there is legislation that could be used as a vehicle for this issue, it is fairly unlikely, in that short time frame, and with elections lingering, that the legislature will act on this issue. That said, pending elections, with the end of a legislative session looming, can have the ability to create motivation where motivation once lacked, so a close eye will need to be kept on the issue.
After the elections, Pennsylvania’s two-year state legislative session will be basically over. The Pennsylvania state legislature no longer holds a Sine Die or “lame duck” session after the general election so all bills that are not acted on will quietly die and will have to be introduced in the next legislative session.
It is not unreasonable to think that the Pennsylvania state legislature could send the Governor legislation for decriminalization of use and small amounts in the 2017-18 legislative session. It is very unlikely, though, that you will see any type of full scale legalization, or recreational use legislation taken up by the Pennsylvania state legislature any time in the near future.