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April 2016 Archives

Is Marijuana Decriminalization Coming to State College?

Marijuana decriminalization will soon be the subject of a public hearing before the State College Borough Council. This hearing could come as soon as May 2, 2016. Although a local government has absolutely no authority to override state or federal criminal laws, it can create borough ordinances subjecting violators to fines and court costs, but not jail time. Thus, if the Borough Council creates an ordinance subjecting a person who possesses a small amount of marijuana to a fine, then the State College Police would have the option of issuing a borough ordinance citation rather than charging a suspect with a misdemeanor under the Pennsylvania Drug Device and Cosmetic Act. The proposed ordinance would cover up to 30 grams of marijuana or up to eight grams of hashish, and subject violators to a $250 fine for possession or a $350 fine for violators smoking in public. students.smoking.weed.jpg
So the natural question is whether such an ordinance will have any impact on Penn State students and others in the local cannabis community. I think it is too early to tell. State College Police have already made possession of marijuana for personal use the lowest law enforcement priority. Charges for possession of drug paraphernalia and small amount of marijuana in the borough are very rare, especially when one considers the ubiquity of cannabis consumption these days. There were only 29 small amount of marijuana charges filed in State College Borough in 2015, and based upon my experience, I suspect most of these were "collateral damage" cases. Collateral damage is a term used by both law enforcement and defense attorneys to describe a situation where the police get a search warrant following a controlled-drug buy, and then the police find drugs in the possession of roommates who had nothing to do with the drug sale to a confidential informant.
Personal use marijuana cases in State College Borough are so rare that I remember most of cases I have had in this category. By contrast, the Penn State Police aggressively enforce the marijuana prohibition laws, even going so far as wake up judges in the middle of the night to obtain search warrants for dorm rooms in response to the smell of marijuana. I have had so many personal use marijuana cases on the Penn State campus that I lost track years ago.
It will be interesting to see whether the State College Police actually enforce the marijuana laws more if they have the option of handing out a citation rather going through the more time-consuming process of filing misdemeanor charges. Perhaps they will, but I doubt that State College Police are going to seek a search warrant every time they smell burnt cannabis in a student apartment hallway. That would be a waste of valuable police resources. The State College Police are far too busy dealing with the mayhem wrought by drunk people.
Matt M. McClenahen is a Penn State alumnus, criminal defense attorney in State College, PA, and member of the NORML Legal Committee. http://www.mattmlaw.com/Criminal-Defense-Overview/Marijuana-Related-Offenses.shtml