The number of people arrested for marijuana possession in Pennsylvania dropped more than 16 percent last year, compared with 2018, and further declines are expected as more cities and states determine that personal possession of small amounts of marijuana should not be a crime.

There were 19,981 arrests for possession of less than 30 grams of marijuana in Pennsylvania in 2019, down from 23,940 arrests in 2018, according to preliminary data released by state police.

Several Pennsylvania cities — including Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Harrisburg, Erie and York — have largely decriminalized personal possession.

Pennsylvania lawmakers have not yet taken that step, but 26 other states — including neighboring Delaware, Maryland, New York and Ohio — have modified their state laws to remove personal possession from the list of criminal offenses.

We think it’s time to move forward with decriminalization statewide.

Pennsylvania is among 33 states that have adopted provisions for the legal use of medical marijuana for the treatment of various conditions. That law was signed by Gov. Tom Wolf in 2016 and since then, state-licensed medical marijuana dispensaries have been opening across the commonwealth.

Andy Hoover, a spokesman for the ACLU of Pennsylvania, said the data indicating fewer arrests for personal possession shows incremental progress.

“At the very least, this means less people who are cannabis consumers are getting tied up in the criminal legal system. That’s a positive.”

Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman conducted a statewide tour last year to gauge public opinion, and based on that feedback, he recommends that the state move to legalize marijuana for adult recreational use, and until that occurs, he recommends that the state decriminalize personal possession.

A bill to do so has been introduced in both the state Senate and House, but neither bill has moved forward. Under current law, possession of 30 grams or less of marijuana is a misdemeanor that carries a maximum sentence of 30 days in prison and a $500 fine. Other charges and penalties apply to possession of larger amounts and to the sale and distribution of marijuana.

Full legalization of marijuana is a much broader issue that should receive robust public debate and ultimately, the endorsement of the voters in a statewide referendum.

However, in the wake of Pennsylvania’s endorsement of medical marijuana and new personal possession laws in 37 states and the District of Columbia, charging a Pennsylvania resident with a criminal offense exclusively for the possession of a small amount of marijuana for personal use can no longer be justified.

NOTE: Opinions expressed in The Daily Item’s editorials are the consensus of the publisher and top newsroom executives. Today’s was written by Digital Editor Dave Hilliard.

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