What to know about Pennsylvania’s marijuana laws

With neighboring New Jersey and New York legalizing recreational marijuana, and Maryland and Ohio deciding whether to this upcoming fall — it can be confusing what still is and isn’t legal in Pennsylvania.

To put it in no uncertain terms: The only legal way to buy or consume marijuana is if you’re a medical marijuana patient with weed bought from a state-approved dispensary. Everything else, even if purchased in a legal state, is a crime.

“Outside of Allegheny County and Philadelphia County, a person can expect to be prosecuted if they’re caught in possession of any amount of cannabis,” said Patrick Nightingale, a Pittsburgh criminal defense lawyer with decades of experiencing in cannabis law.

Here’s a breakdown of Pennsylvania laws about possessing, smoking, buying, selling and growing marijuana, including if you’re a minor or someone who is on parole or probation.

No. Marijuana is still illegal in Pennsylvania. The state police’s director of communications, Lt. Adam Reed, told The Inquirer, “Marijuana is a Schedule I Controlled Substance in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. As Pennsylvania’s law currently stands, a person can be charged by any law enforcement agency in Pennsylvania for illegal possession of marijuana.”

If you are caught for any of the offenses discussed in this guide, you will most likely be arrested by police in the state. Additionally, unless you are eligible for expungement or diversion programs, which allow people who are charged with their first crime to have their record cleared after completing counseling or community service, these crimes will remain on your criminal record for life. If you aren’t eligible for diversion programs, you need to receive a Governor’s pardon (you can apply for it) or state law has to change to allow for mass expungement of marijuana-related offenses.

No. Marijuana is decriminalized in Philadelphia and Allegheny counties, which reduces the penalties for marijuana-related offenses to that of a civil violation. This means police won’t arrest you for possessing, buying or consuming small amounts of marijuana (up to 30 grams of marijuana or 8 grams of hashish/oil). You still can’t sell marijuana and you can’t possess more than 30 grams in those counties — then you can be arrested. If you’re caught with a small amount of weed, you receive a $25 fine. If you’re caught smoking weed, it’s $100. Civil violations do not show up on your criminal or driving record. Here’s what you need to know about Philly’s marijuana laws.

If you have a medical marijuana card, then you have access to legal weed in the Commonwealth. Additionally, medical marijuana patients have to consume their own marijuana. That is, patients are only allowed to buy and consume marijuana bought at approved dispensaries in Pennsylvania. Buying or consuming weed bought elsewhere, like legally in New Jersey or on the traditional, underground market — now referred to as the “legacy market” — is still illegal (and you’ll face the same penalties as non-patients).

Adults ages 21 and older can buy and consume legal marijuana in New Jersey, but only in that state. You can’t bring that legally bought weed back to Pennsylvania, that is illegal. Here’s what to know about buying legal N.J. marijuana if you live in Pennsylvania.

Yes. Any amount of marijuana in your possession, whether it’s one gram or one pound, is illegal. Thirty grams or less is a misdemeanor crime that comes with a $500 fine and up to 30 days in jail. More than 30 grams is still a misdemeanor but the fine is $5,000 and up to one year in jail. If you’re arrested and found guilty of possession a second or subsequent time, you can be fined $25,000 and be incarcerated for up to three years.

Keep in mind, depending on how the marijuana is packaged, police could observe an intention to sell the marijuana.

“Let’s say I have a quarter pound of marijuana and it is in one big bag. Did I just buy a large quantity of my favorite strain to keep at my house?” said Nightingale. “Now, if I have that same quarter pound bagged up into eighths and quarters — we’ve got circumstantial evidence that would suggest that I have that quarter pound packaged for retail sale.”

Yes. It’s a felony to sell any amount of marijuana in Pennsylvania. If you’re caught selling marijuana you can be fined $15,000 and be incarcerated for two and a half to five years for the first offense. Penalties and fines increase each time you are found guilty of selling marijuana again.

“If I sell you one pre-roll joint for $5, I commit a felony distribution of marijuana,” said Nightingale. “If I sell you 500 pre-roll joints for $2,500 dollars, it’s still the same offense. Now, the sentencing guidelines increase depending on plant count or weight.”

Yes. If you are caught consuming marijuana by the police, then they will arrest you. The penalties are the same as for possession depending on how much marijuana you have.

“Smoking marijuana, even if one is a registered medical cannabis patient, is illegal in Pennsylvania and can result in a misdemeanor ‘small amount’ charge or simple possession depending on the total amount possessed,” said Nightingale.

However, it is legal to smoke marijuana with less than .03% total THC — the major cannabinoid in marijuana that produces psychoactive effects. Cannabis products like hemp, Delta 8 THC or CBD, fall under the legal federal limit for THC in a cannabis product. If you’re caught with these products, the police will have to be able to articulate why they believe the product being consumed is illegal marijuana as opposed to legal hemp.

Yes. If prosecutors or law enforcement don’t believe you’ll be selling the marijuana after being caught buying it, then you will face the same penalties as you would for possession depending on how much you have.

Yes. It’s a felony to grow any amount of marijuana plants, even if it’s not meant to be sold. If you’re caught growing marijuana you can be fined $15,000 and incarcerated for two and a half to five years. Penalties increase for second and subsequent convictions.

Yes. If you’re caught driving with any amount of controlled substances, like marijuana, in your system, then you can be charged with a DUI — even if you haven’t consumed marijuana that day. In Pennsylvania, a first-time DUI is a misdemeanor that carries a $300 fine and you can be incarcerated for up to 6 months. Here’s what to do if you’re pulled over after using cannabis.

Yes. While the penalties will be different and a minor will go through the juvenile legal system, it’s still illegal and will result in some form of probation or community service. Once they are legal adults, juvenile criminal records are sealed, but there can be exceptions depending on the severity of the crime (like a felony).

If you are caught by the police for a drug-related offense, you can be charged for a new crime and risk being incarcerated.

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