When Will Pennsylvania Legalize Adult-Use Cannabis?

By Claudia Post

The state of Pennsylvania has reached a curious inflection point with legal cannabis. While there is strong support for legalization among residents and politicians alike, Pennsylvania has fallen behind neighboring states when it comes to adult-use cannabis. 

With New York, New Jersey, Maryland, and Ohio all having legalized at this point, Pennsylvania lawmakers are beginning to recognize the lost financial opportunities with recreational cannabis. For non-medical consumers in Pennsylvania, the only option is going across state lines and spending money elsewhere. 

While adult-use cannabis was once a controversial topic only discussed in liberal pockets of the West, it has been rapidly accepted by the mainstream in recent years. In fact, a recent Gallup poll shows that an amazing 70% of Americans favor legalization on the federal level. With so much momentum behind the industry, does Pennsylvania stand with adult-use cannabis?


Brief History of Pennsylvania Cannabis

As seen in other places, legalization efforts in Pennsylvania come about through the combined efforts of bipartisan political support, grassroots advocacy groups, and early entrepreneurs willing to invest millions of dollars in startup costs. A brief historical overview of cannabis in Pennsylvania will provide a better understanding of the different forces that need to come together to bring about adult-use legalization.

Medical Marijuana Act / PA Act 16 (2016)

Pennsylvania’s medical cannabis industry came into existence when the Medica Marijuana Act (PA Act 16) was signed into law in 2016. Shortly thereafter, according to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania website, “on February 15, 2018, medical marijuana became available for patients at dispensaries across the commonwealth.” 

Under PA Act 16, the Office of Medical Marijuana regulates safe access and business opportunities in the state of Pennsylvania. To get a medical marijuana card in Pennsylvania, patients with qualifying conditions must register with the marijuana registry, and then get certified by a licensed physician.

PA Act 44 (2021)

While PA Act 16 officially legalized cannabis in Pennsylvania, the state amended some important rules with the passage of PA Act 44 in 2021. Some key changes that came about with

PA Act 44 are new qualifying conditions, increased size of legal sales from 30-day to 90-day supplies, approved curbside sales, as well as an expansion on the number of dispensary licenses from 48 to 60. 

While all of the changes under PA Act 44 are indications of loosening cannabis restrictions in Pennsylvania, perhaps most important is the fact that the “Act removes certain references” to cannabis as a Schedule 1 Drug. In turn, the Pennsylvania Medical Society explains, “Because of these removals, Pennsylvania’s Medical Marijuana Program will continue regardless of the federal scheduling of marijuana.”

What is the Medical Industry in Pennsylvania Like?

Looking at the current state of the medical industry in Pennsylvania sheds further insight into the likelihood of adult-use legalization. If the medical market is functional and growing, it's a good indicator that a transition into recreational cannabis will be both smooth and easy.

Legal Counties vs Non-Legal Counties

While PA Act 16 legalized medical cannabis statewide, it is still up to individual counties whether they choose to let dispensaries operate within their borders. Currently, 29 counties in Pennsylvania don’t allow dispensaries, while 38 counties have operational retail cannabis stores. As a result, many Pennsylvania residents must travel to neighboring counties to get medical cannabis.

Qualifying Conditions

Pennsylvania recognizes 24 qualifying conditions for medical cannabis. While these conditions include terminal illnesses like HIV and cancer, they also include psychological disorders that are much harder to prove. More often than not, looser laws on qualifying conditions represent favorable public opinions for cannabis. Over 25% of the medical cannabis cards issued in Pennsylvania are for PTSD and anxiety.

Patient Counts

Looking at total patient counts within certain populations is also a great way to assess public sentiments on legalization. The Marijuana Policy Project website shows that as of 2022, Pennsylvania has 712,421 registered medical cannabis patients out of 12,972,008 people - representing 5.49% of the total population. Of all the U.S. states with MMJ programs, Pennsylvania has the 3rd highest per capita patient ratio - trailing only Oklahoma at 9.7% and Maine at 7.66%.

Operational Dispensaries in Pennsylvania

When the medical industry first launched in 2018, the Office of Medical Marijuana issued 50 dispensary licenses. In turn, each license holder could open 3 storefronts - with a total of 150 possible dispensaries. With the passage of PA Act 44, the total number of dispensaries now operating in Pennsylvania has expanded to 161. To put that number in perspective, there are about 4,500 registered medical cannabis patients per dispensary in Pennsylvania.

Grower & Processor Licenses

The Office of Medical Marijuana originally issued 25 grower/processor licenses. As the name implies, these businesses are able to cultivate medical cannabis and process it into other products like extracts. Of these 25 entities, only 5 were issued dispensary permits for full vertical integration. Currently, there are nearly 30,000 medical patients per grower/processor business in Pennsylvania.

New Legislation & Hope for Adult-Use Legalization in Pennsylvania

While there is obvious public support across the state of Pennsylvania for more lenient cannabis laws, certain key political figures are also paving the way for adult-use legalization.

Senate Bill 773

In December 2023, the Pennsylvania Senate approved SB 773. In essence, the new law allows every cannabis business license holder in the state to vertically integrate. As the Philadelphia Inquirer explains, “All growers will be allowed to apply for and be awarded a license to open dispensaries. Independent dispensaries will also be allowed to apply for grower-processor licenses.”

Governor Shapiro’s 2024-2025 Budget Address

In perhaps the most interesting turn of events for the industry, Governor Josh Shapiro recently included the legalization and regulation of adult-use cannabis in the state’s budget spending. In his annual budget address, he proposed that adult-use cannabis be legalized on July 1, 2024, and for retail sales to begin in 2025. Nonetheless, Shapiro’s proposal needs to go through the appropriate legal and political channels to become a reality.

Senate Bill 846

Adult-use legalization in Pennsylvania also has strong bipartisan support from Senator Sharif Street (D) and Senator Dan Laughlin. Working together, these two important Senators introduced SB 846 in July 2023 - a Bill that not only proposes adult-use legalization but also lays the framework for how recreational cannabis will function in Pennsylvania. As the Marijuana Project Policy website explains, “With support from the governor, the House’s Democratic majority, and some powerful supporters in the Senate Republican caucus, there is a real chance for legalization in the Keystone State in the coming years.” 


Several important forces are converging to bring Pennsylvania to the brink of legalizing adult-use cannabis. While there is strong support coming from Governor Shapiro and Senators Street and Laughlin, it’s also evident that Pennsylvania residents look favorably on legal cannabis. Pennsylvania has some of the highest percentages of registered medical cannabis patients anywhere in the country. 

With just about every neighboring state now reaping the hefty tax rewards of legal adult-use cannabis, Pennsylvania can no longer ignore such obvious opportunities knocking at its door. All things considered, it's not a matter of if Pennsylvania legalizes recreational cannabis; it's a matter of when. 

If you want any information about the Pennsylvania market, please get in touch, I’d love to help.

About the Author

Claudia Post is an entrepreneur, pioneer groundbreaker, speaker, generous introducer, and power connector. Having recognized cannabis as the next frontier 13 years ago, Claudia founded MOST Consulting Group which is a one-stop shop for cannabis businesses; providing marketing, advertising, design, and strategy for all verticals in the cannabis industry. 

Twenty years ago Claudia founded Diamond Transportation Group, a same-day, time-critical delivery service. Having founded Diamond at her dining room table with just four people, she subsequently opened twelve locations up and down the East Coast, supplying trucking, pick-pack-ship, chain of custody, logistics, supply chain, and a variety of other services to her clients. 

From her humble beginnings, she grew to twelve locations and became a multi-million dollar company. She has a local, regional, and national presence. She is noted to be a subject matter expert in transportation and logistics. With her expertise in transportation, most recently she founded Scarlet Express, a state-approved delivery service that provides discreet, secure, and expert cannabis supply chain management in every state where legal.

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