The legalization of marijuana has been a very controversial matter over the course of the past decade throughout the United States. People from a variety of backgrounds have presented different stances toward this topic. The trend has been towards the legalization of marijuana for both recreational and medicinal purposes. States such as Colorado, Oregon, Vermont, California, and now Pennsylvania have taken action towards legalization. On November 11, 2000 54% of Colorado voters approved Amendment 20, which implemented the legalization of medical marijuana. Twelve years later, Colorado voters approved Amendment 64, which legalized the recreational use of marijuana for those older than 21. This historic event became a catalyst for more states to take action toward recreational legalization when it became known that the legalization of marijuana had created millions of dollars in revenue for the State of Colorado.
In 2014, Philadelphia began to take the first steps towards legalization of marijuana: on September 8, 2014, the Philadelphia City Council passed a bill to decriminalize marijuana. Beginning on October 14, 2014, a person caught in possession of 30 grams or less of cannabis would be given a ticket carrying a fine of $25.001, instead of being handcuffed and placed in a holding cell. The implementation of this bill has saved the City’s taxpayers millions of dollars. In 2013, before cannabis was decriminalized, Philadelphia on average spent $39.5 million annually2 enforcing the marijuana possession laws.
It has now been almost two years since the decriminalization bill was signed into law and arrest rates have plummeted. According to police reports, arrests for possession and public smoking of cannabis went down 82% over the course of the 2014 calendar year. As a result, Philadelphians have saved on average $4.4 million in tax dollars that had been spent on policing marijuana. These savings can be used to rebuild roads and bridges and fund struggling inner city schools. Moreover, the City has collected $40,590 in marijuana possession fines, $12,885 of which had been paid when the report was issued in March, 2015.
Since the Philadelphia decriminalization law was passed, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania has begun to take steps to legalize the dispensation and consumption of medicinal marijuana in order to give patients who suffer from chronic illnesses, such as seizures and various forms of cancer, access to marijuana with a written prescription from a doctor. On April 17, 2016, Governor Tom Wolf signed a medical marijuana bill into law. As a result, many who suffer from these chronic illnesses now have something to soothe their pain. When the new law has been fully implemented, there will be 50 dispensaries around the state that would be regulated by the health department and supplied by 25 marijuana producers statewide. These dispensaries, according to multiple sources, should be open by the end of the 2016-2017 fiscal year.
However, those who wish to use the new medical marijuana law to obtain marijuana for recreational use will most likely be disappointed. Under the law’s regulations, it is very difficult for someone who does not suffer from a serious illness to fit the criterion necessary to obtain a medical marijuana card. Moreover, those patients who have already attempted to obtain a medical marijuana card have complained that the application process is very confusing and tedious. Also, doctors from states such as Colorado and California, where medical marijuana has been legalized, are reportedly not prescribing marijuana as early as they do standard pharmaceutical drugs because of the very specific requirements needed. Thus, while there has been much progress in the past decade towards the legalization of marijuana for medical and recreational uses, it seems that it will be quite some time before it is legalized in all 50 states for recreational use.