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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. 

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.

Marijuana Decriminalization Could Come to Harrisburg

A marijuana decriminalization bill is expected to be introduced this week at the Harrisburg City Counsel legislative session. The bill would allow police to charge possession of a small amount of marijuana as a local ordinance summary offense with a $100 fine for a first offense and $200 fine for a second offense. Anyone unlucky enough to be caught a third time would be charged with the usual ungraded misdemeanor under the Pennsylvania Drug Device and Cosmetic Act. A "small amount" of marijuana in Pennsylvania is defined as less than 30 grams for personal use.

Pennsylvania Judge Buys Medical Marijuana Justification Defense

A Pennsylvania judge recently found a York County man not guilty of possession of marijuana for personal use based upon the defendant's successful assertion of the justification defense. Judge Thomas H. Kelley VI found 64 year old Chuck Homan not guilty, after hearing credible testimony from a psychiatrist who opined that medical marijuana alleviates symptoms associated with Mr. Homan's bipolar disorder.

Could Marijuana Detectors Come to Penn State?

Smoking marijuana in dorms and apartments is a common practice among Penn State students, as is the case at most universities. Yet this time-honored student tradition could get a bit more dangerous in the spring of 2015 with the release of a new tobacco and marijuana smoke detector known as AirGuard. This device ignores things like smoke from cooking or candles, while zeroing in on tobacco and marijuana smoke. Rather than emitting an ear-splitting scream like a conventional smoke detector, the sensor quietly sends an electronic signal to an interested party, such as the police, rental office, hotel front desk, RA or residents life coordinator.

As Marijuana Attitudes Change, Naivety about Legal Consequences Increases

Marijuana is more socially acceptable now than ever before, especially among young people. In the modern world, those who don't toke really don't care if other people do, yet not that long ago, many people uninitiated into cannabis culture looked down on reefer and those who smoke it. Of course, the irony is that many of the Archie Bunker types, who berated hippies and stoners, drank alcohol and smoked tobacco, but now we have gotten to the point where smoking cigarettes in public carries a far greater social stigma than smoking cannabis in one's own home. In fact, Archie Bunker would be spinning in his TV Land grave if he knew that being gay and smoking weed are far less violative of 21st Century societal norms than his habit of smoking cigars and throwing around racial slurs.

Marijuana Prohibitionists Suffer More Blows

Yesterday, marijuana prohibitionists went 1-3 in ballot measures to re-legalize cannabis for recreational purposes. I use the term "re-legalize," instead of "legalize," because marijuana was legal throughout most of American history, with marijuana prohibition not sweeping the country until the 1920s and 1930s. Alaska, Oregon and Washington DC voters approved recreational marijuana, while a similar measure failed in Florida. Despite 57% of Florida votes in favor of re-legalization, at least 60% of votes were needed, as the measure was presented as an amendment to the state constitution. 

How Can Philadelphia Decriminalize Marijuana?

With Philadelphia poised to become the largest city in the US to decriminalize marijuana, many people are asking how a city has the legal authority to enact its own drug laws. After all, Pennsylvania law already provides penalties for possession, cultivation and sale of marijuana in the Drug Device and Cosmetic Act. Likewise, the federal government also bans the possession, use and distribution of marijuana, however, the feds generally charge people with possession of marijuana only if the offense happened on federal land, like a national park, leaving all other misdemeanor-level drug enforcement to the states. So is Philadelphia a free-city state, able to enact its own laws in contravention of state and federal law? 

Does a Marijuana-Related Criminal Charge Mean My Child Needs Drug Treatment?

As a criminal defense lawyer a mere five minute walk from the Penn State campus, I have represented countless Penn State students charged with marijuana-related offenses. More often than not, the initial phone calls or emails come from the students' parents, rather than the students themselves, because the parents are the ones who will be hiring a criminal defense attorney. A commonly raised concern among parents is whether they should be worried about deeper problems than the small amount of marijuana and drug paraphernalia charge, and whether they should get their child into drug treatment.
The favorite answer of lawyers to most questions is "it depends," and it is the most appropriate answer in this scenario. Sometimes, marijuana use is a symptom of bigger problems, like depression, while other times it is harmless, occasional recreational use. We really need to know more before we can ascertain whether criminal charges arising from marijuana use are just the tip of the iceberg.

Victim of Marijuana Rip-Off Calls Police to Complain

People call the police and 911 all the time for inappropriate reasons, but a Texas woman took things to a new level of daftness when she called the police to complain that the $40 bag of marijuana she bought was unsmokable. Evelyn Hamilton was distraught that the dime bag was nothing more than stems and seeds, which certainly gives her just reason to complain, but why she chose to bring this matter to the police is beyond me.stems.and.seeds-thumb-420x289-35092.jpg

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