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Knowing the Ins and Outs of PA & NJ Marijuana Legislation

Twenty years ago, you couldn’t whisper “marijuana” in a hushed tone without being accused of being a delinquent. As the cultural zeitgeist evolves to include demystifying and destigmatizing is the beloved plant’s use, the legislature has had to evolve. While marijuana was previously illegal in all its forms, the United States has taken giant leaps in sanctioning marijuana for medical use. In some more progressive states, it’s decriminalized. 

In November 2020, 65% of New Jersey residents voted to decriminalize the drug for recreational use in adults 21 years and older. Four years earlier, Pennsylvania residents pushed their representation to the left when they voted to legalize medical marijuana in the state and open a massive number of economy-boosting dispensaries. 

Even though you can now get away with talking about marijuana at the dinner table among polite company, that doesn’t mean that all previous consequences have disappeared. Given that many Pennsylvania and New Jersey residents frequently cross the border between the states, it’s all the more important to be well-versed in each state’s laws, how they differ, the rules for transport across state lines — and when to contact a criminal defense attorney.

Medical Marijuana in Pennsylvania: What You Need to Know 

Medical marijuana is legal in Pennsylvania as long as you carry the official diagnosis of the 23 approved conditions. It’s not enough to have your condition documented through medical records, however. To legally purchase and possess medical marijuana, you must visit a state-approved doctor, pay their specified fees (generally not covered by insurance) and the yearly state fees for your medical card. 

The 23 approved medical conditions are:

  • Anxiety Disorders
  • Lou Gehrig’s Disease (ALS)
  • Autism
  • Cancer
  • Crohn’s Disease
  • Spinal injury
  • Dyskinetic or spastic movement disorders
  • Epilepsy
  • Glaucoma
  • Huntington’s Disease
  • Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBS)
  • Seizures
  • Multiple Sclerosis (MS)
  • Neurodegenerative diseases
  • Neuropathies
  • Opioid use disorder
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
  • Severe, chronic pain
  • Sickle cell anemia
  • Terminal illness
  • Tourette syndrome

Philadelphia has decriminalized possession

Since 2014, Philadelphia has been key to spearheading the marijuana decriminalization effort in major cities. Though the laws remain stringent in other areas of the state, Philadelphia is a progressive “Emerald City” for recreational marijuana users. 

Decriminalization is not the same as legal. Before 2014, any individual possessing marijuana could be charged with possession and arrested. Decriminalization takes these consequences down a peg and transforms minor possession into something similar to a parking ticket. Possession of 30 grams or less may come with a fine of up to $25 and a citation for disorderly behavior. Smoking in public comes with a heftier fine of up to $100 and a citation or mandated community service. 

Possessing more than 30 grams is still punishable by jail time, and intent-to-distribute is still a criminal offense. Police officers are even warranted to confiscate any marijuana they find on an individual, regardless of the quantity. 

New Jersey Is in the Process of Legalizing Recreational Marijuana

Even though the New Jersey legislature has been voted on, there is still a long road ahead before New Jersey residents are seeing all the benefits of the new bill. In December 2020, New Jersey legislators voted on three bills to further outline the future of the state’s marijuana laws. These included plans for the official outline on legalization, the state’s understanding of cannabis decriminalization, and a final bill that limits penalties for possession of “magic mushrooms.” 

After December, New Jersey will downgrade all possession charges under the legal limit, while drug sales will still be prohibited until further notice. According to state officials, setting up the marijuana dispensary industry in New Jersey is akin to the arduous process of alcohol permits and regulation. So it’s coming, but it will take time. 

The state currently has 12 medical marijuana facilities, but it’s expected that the industry will boom in response to the demand for patients and the general public. 

Sticky Subjects: Sales, Cultivation, and Distribution

Each state has its own limits on what constitutes a sale, excessive cultivation, and distribution of cannabis. It’s still considered a “pie-in-the-sky” dream to call for blanket decriminalization in all areas of the industry. The fact of the matter is that as long as the state can control the production and supply of the highly in-demand plant, it will take advantage of its power. 

For this reason, avid marijuana aficionados must be aware of the ins and outs of the laws. 


In Pennsylvania, getting caught with the intent to sell less than 30-grams of cannabis with no remuneration — money gained from the transaction — is considered a misdemeanor, carrying the possibility of 30 days in jail and a $500 fine. 

Quantities larger than 30 grams with intent to distribute is a felony and carries a maximum sentence of 5 years and a $15,000 fine. Selling to a minor, or at a school, or near a playground increases the penalties for each of these offenses. 

Cultivation of any number of plants is a felony in Pennsylvania, and it carries the same weight as a felony charge for distribution. 

Hash, concentrates, and paraphernalia are all subject to similar penalties as marijuana is still considered a Schedule I narcotic. 

New Jersey

New Jersey laws are similar to PA laws, but they’re not the same. Possession of 50 grams or less is considered a disorderly person and carries a maximum fine of $1,000. Possession of more than 50 grams is considered a crime with a minimum sentence of a year and a half in prison and a $25,000 fine. If you’re caught with possession of marijuana within 1000 feet of a school, expect to see 100 hours of community service and additional fines added to your penalties. 

Distribution is a crime in New Jersey, no matter the quantity. Unlike Pennsylvania, New Jersey includes school buses in its codes. If you’re caught with possession or intent to distribute within 1000 feet of a school or school bus, the penalties increase, and the maximum fine can be as high as $150,000. 

Cultivation, paraphernalia, and concentrate laws are similar to Pennsylvania, with one significant exception. Unlike Pennsylvania, New Jersey classifies hash possession or concentrates less than 5 grams to be a disorderly person charge, carrying a maximum fine of $1,000. 

Trafficking Laws and Bringing Cannabis Across State Lines

This one is pretty straightforward — don’t do it. Even if you have no previous criminal record, drug trafficking across state lines is a serious offense. Trafficking charges can be upgraded to include criminal conspiracy and inchoate offenses. 

For more information on getting legal defense for drug crimes in Pennsylvania, including possession, manufacturing, and trafficking, reach out to us today.