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Photo of Matt M. McClenahen

Bringing Marijuana onto State Prison Grounds leads to Charges

| Jun 21, 2013 | Uncategorized

A Pittsburgh woman recently found out the hard way
what the consequences are for bringing a small amount of marijuana and drug paraphernalia onto state prison grounds. The 20 year old college student was apparently attempting to visit someone at the new SCI Benner Township facility next to SCI Rockview, when drug sniffing dogs alerted corrections officers to the presence of contraband. A subsequent search revealed a small amount of marijuana and drug paraphernalia in the defendant’s possession.

Had this unfortunate defendant been caught with a small amount of marijuana and drug paraphernalia at a more typical location, she would be in a lot less trouble. Pursuant to the Pennsylvania Drug Device and Cosmetic Act, the maximum penalty for drug paraphernalia is 12 months incarceration and a $2,500 fine, while the maximum penalty for small amount of marijuana is 30 days in jail and a $500 fine. Often, defendants with such charges qualify for first-time offenders programs such as ARD or probation in lieu of judgment, which allow them to avoid a criminal record. But when you take these exact same illegal items onto prison grounds, these ungraded misdemeanors magically transform into serious second degree felony “contraband” charges, punishable by five to ten years and state prison and a maximum fine of $25,000.

In my experience, the vast majority of people caught with marijuana on prison grounds had absolutely no intention of smuggling it to inmates. Usually, they simply forgot that they had it in a coat pocket or purse. Sometimes, they leave it in their car, only to have it discovered by drug sniffing dogs making their rounds through the visitors parking lot. My educated guess is that the defendant in this case falls into this unlucky category.

So why is marijuana rarely smuggled into prisons? The simple answer is that marijuana is a less than ideal drug for inmates to try to conceal. Considering how many Penn State students are busted each year due to cannabis smells emanating from their dorm rooms, you can imagine how difficult it would be for inmates to get away with smoking ganja in a maximum security prison, where you are no longer even allowed to smoke tobacco. So if marijuana is out of the question for inmates, then what drugs are smuggled into prisons? Well, pills of course. Pills are easily hidden and swallowing them is considerably less obvious than smoking, snorting or injecting a controlled substance. You also do not need any form of drug paraphernalia to introduce pills into the human body.

Hopefully, this young lady receives a reasonable outcome to her case. It would be unjust to receive a felony conviction and jail time for simply be absentminded or not realizing that your car is subject to a non-consensual search when parked on state prison land.

Matt McClenahen is a criminal defense lawyer in State College, Centre County, Pennsylvania, with exensive experience in drug cases. He limits his practice to criminal law matters.

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