Recreational Marijuana Legalization Questions Burn in Minds of Lawmakers

As the state’s fiscal year winds to a close and lawmakers turn their attention to the budget process, another issue has been garnering headlines and media attention across the Commonwealth – the legalization of recreational marijuana.  While medical marijuana has been legal in Pennsylvania for more than 5 years, there are some state lawmakers who wish to expand the law even further.  As a result, the issue has been the subject of a series of Senate committee hearings and a consistent talking point of a few select candidates on the campaign trail.


Before the ink was dry on Act 16 of 2016 – the law which allows for medicinal marijuana in the Commonwealth – proponents began pushing for the legalization of recreational usage as well. Pennsylvania isn’t the only state debating this issue.  Just a few weeks ago, our neighbor to the east, New Jersey became the latest state to open the door for recreational marijuana use.  In fact, recreational marijuana is now permitted in 18 states.


While the PA Chamber has not taken a position on the issue, we do have concerns about expanding the program while there is still ambiguity for employers with the current law.  Since Act 16 was enacted, the list of medical conditions to qualify has steadily expanded and the use of marijuana for medical purposes has become widely proliferated.  As a result, marijuana has increasingly become a factor in the workplace.  While the law protects patients from discrimination, it unfortunately does not offer similar protections for employers.  Additionally, job creators have reported significant confusion regarding their rights as it pertains to implementing workplace safety standards under the law.  For example, are employers in safety-sensitive industries allowed to drug test or require applicants to disclose medical marijuana use or take someone off a dangerous job if they are impaired?  The law isn’t clear and for many, this lack of clarity is complicating their ability to maintain a safe work environment, particularly in safety-sensitive industries.


There is legislation moving through the General Assembly that would address numerous areas of ambiguity in Act 16.  Senate Bill 749, sponsored by Senator Bob Mensch, R-Montgomery, passed the Senate Health Human and Services Committee on April 12.  The bill is supported by a wide range of industries – from construction and energy to schools and childcare providers.  The PA Chamber is urging employers to thank Committee members who supported the bill and help us push this legislation to the Senate floor where it awaits further consideration.


In the meantime, despite calls for broadening the state’s marijuana program to include recreational usage continuing to make headlines – especially on the campaign trail – the issue does not appear to be making it to the governor’s desk anytime soon.  House Majority Leader Kerry Benninghoff, R-Centre, has previously stated the chances of such a bill moving through the House this session are slim.  On the other side of the Capitol, the issue has been the subject of hearings held by two different committees.  But there does not appear to be consensus in the upper chamber on bringing legislation to the full Senate for a vote.  As the debate on recreational marijuana continues to unfold, the PA Chamber will remain a steadfast voice for Pennsylvania’s employer community – encouraging lawmakers to carefully consider the potential impacts it could have on the workplace and workforce and advocating for greater clarification to Act 16 of 2016.