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State College Criminal Law Blog

Medical Marijuana Turns "Gateway Drug" Argument on its Head

The old notion that marijuana is a "gateway drug" has been turned on its head byPennsylvania's recent decision allow medical marijuana for opiate addicts seeking to break free of dangerous and addictive drugs like heroin. As a criminal defense attorney, I have had many clients switch to marijuana as they tried to escape enslavement to opiates. Like any logical and rational person, I believe that if one is using marijuana instead of heroin, it is an improvement! But some probation officers and judges were not in agreement, and they used to have the law on their side. For too long, recovering opiate addicts would be thrown jail for smoking marijuana in violation of a zero-tolerance approach to illegal drug use while on probation. Medicinal-Marijuana.jpg
Pennsylvania's new, enlightened approach is especially noteworthy to those of us well-versed in the history of American drug policy. When imperial, scientific evidence showed that marijuana was not the "assassin of youth" portrayed by "Reefer Madness" era prohibitionists like Penn State's own Harry J. Anslinger, Drug War hawks adopted the "gateway drug" argument to justify continued cannabis prohibition. The long-discredited gateway drug argument posits that those who smoke marijuana would eventually move on to hard drugs like heroin, because most heroin addicts smoked marijuana before they ever tried heroin.
The Gateway Drug fallacy is a classic example of correlation not equaling causation. Only a tiny percentage of marijuana users have ever gone on to use heroin. Likewise, most heroin addicts also smoked cigarettes and drank alcohol before ever trying heroin, but these drugs, which are certainly more harmful and more addictive than cannabis, were conveniently omitted from the "gateway drug" argument.
Now, Pennsylvania has legally recognized marijuana as a "gateway drug" away from and not into opiate addition. Although there is medical research in support of this policy change, it is still a bold move, when one considers that there are still a few dinosaurs around in positions of power like US Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who cling to the notion that marijuana has no medicinal value and leads to hard drug abuse.
I suspect that some people who use marijuana as a bridge away from opiates may eventually stop using marijuana and achieve full sobriety. Others may continue to smoke marijuana the rest of their lives as a buffer against relapse into opiate addiction. Either scenario is preferable to continued opiate addiction.
Matt McClenahen is a criminal defense lawyer in State College, PA, home of Penn State University. He is a member of the NORML Legal Committee. 

Misdemeanor Charges Filed Against Catfish Thrower

Misdemeanor and summary offense charges have been filed against a Nashville Predators fan who had the audacity to throw a dead catfish onto the sacred ice of PPG Paints Arena during Game 1 of the 2017 Stanley Cup Finals last night. Jacob Waddell of Nolenville, TN, who was lucky enough to procure a ticket which should have gone to a more-deserving Penguins fan, erroneously believed that throwing a dead catfish onto the ice would be as legally permissible in Pittsburgh as it is at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville. Neither Pens fans nor the Pittsburgh Police were amused by this rude gesture, and not only was Wadell ejected from the game, he now also finds himself charged with possessing instruments of crime, disrupting meetings and disorderly conduct.

Pennsylvania Man Charged with Miniature Horse Molestation

A 21 year-old, Pennsylvania man has been charged with a non-residential burglary and sexual intercourse with an animal following an August 16, 2016, incident in Lancaster County. Ephrata Police allege that Travis Wagner entered a barn with the intent of committing a crime therein. Usually, theft is the crime intended to be committed when a person unlawfully enters a building and is charged with burglary. But in this case, the only thing allegedly stolen was the poor miniature horse's dignity and innocence.miniature-horse-thumb-400x336-75396.jpg

Why Penn State Should Encourage Beer Drinking!

The Penn State alcohol policy has been an abject failure. Irresponsible and excessive alcohol consumption appear to be at an all-time high in Happy Valley, yet attempts to curtail drinking have only made things worse. So how did we get to a place where Mount Nittany Medical Center can expect alcohol overdoses every weekend and underage drinking an public drunkenness charges clog the local magisterial district courts? The sad reality is that Penn State's alcohol policies have had the unintended consequence of encouraging students to drink hard liquor instead of beer.

State College Marijuana Decriminalization is Misunderstood

"Marijuana is decriminalized in State College! It is now the equivalent of a parking ticket!" Thanks to some irresponsible and inaccurate media reports coupled with a misunderstanding of criminal law, this is the misinformed belief a lot of Penn State students and Centre County residents now have. Given all the confusion generated by this ordinance, it is incumbent upon criminal defense lawyers like me to set the record straight. The bottom line is that the decriminalization ordinance is essentially symbolic, and will have little if any effect on the Penn State community.

State College Marijuana Decriminalization is Misunderstood

"Marijuana is decriminalized in State College! It is now the equivalent of a parking ticket!" Thanks to some irresponsible and inaccurate media reports coupled with a misunderstanding of criminal law, this is the misinformed belief a lot of Penn State students and Centre County residents now have. Given all the confusion generated by this ordinance, it is incumbent upon criminal defense lawyers like me to set the record straight. The bottom line is that the decriminalization ordinance is essentially symbolic, and will have little if any effect on the Penn State community.

DUI and Underage Drinking Charges against Amish Teens

DUI charges are not limited to those who drive motor vehicles on public roads. In fact, a Pennsylvania Amish teen recently learned the hard that you can get a DUI operating ANY vehicle on a public roadway, including a horse-drawn buggy. Pennsylvania State Police recently filed charges of DUI and underage drinking against an 18 year old Amish man in Indiana County. The police pulled over the buggy when they saw two young men riding on the roof. All four buggy passengers were under 21 and were charged with underage drinking.

Should Penn State Follow OSU's lead with Stadium Beer Sales?

Penn State has long resisted alcohol sales at Beaver Stadium, but as universities search for new revenue streams, the trend is moving towards college-stadium beers sales, just as pro-stadiums have done for as long as anyone can remember. In May of this year, Penn State announced that it would allow beer and wine sales in the hoity-toity suites and club seats, while the masses would have to get their drink on the old fashioned way in the Beaver Stadium parking lots. In 2015, Ohio State took the exact same segregated alcohol sales approach, but in 2016, all of Buckeye Nation will be able to drink beer in the stadium, not just the well-heeled in club seats.

Indecent Exposure Charges Filed Against Penis Prankster

Sixty-nine misdemeanor indecent exposure charges and one felony count of furnishing harmful items to a minor have been filed against a 19-year-old Arizona boy who exposed his penis in a yearbook photo prank. I call him a "boy" despite what the AP style manual says, because anyone who does this lacks the maturity to be considered an adult man. As the Red Mountain High School football team posed for its team picture last year, two players in the front row created a small gap for Hunter Osborn, standing in the second row, to expose his penis in the picture. Since the penile prank has come to light, Osborn has been very apologetic, indicating that he succumbed to peer pressure when his friends dared him to do it. Osborn was 18 when the photo was taken, so he has been charged as an adult.

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-thumb-420x279-71220.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

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