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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. stoner-girls-smoking-weed-gallery-2-50.jpg

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. stoner-girls-smoking-weed-gallery-2-50.jpg

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

Do Fake IDs Work at Penn State Bars?

The quick answer is using fake IDs in State College is not a good idea. Occasionally fake IDs will work at a Penn State bar, but if you use a fake ID in this town enough times, you will eventually get caught. A common refrain I hear from clients is "I used this ID all semester with no problem until I got this one bouncer."  Others are not so lucky and are busted the first time they try to use a fake ID.

Is Jaywalking Legal in State College, Pennsylvania?

Jaywalking in downtown State College is an entrenched part of Penn State culture on par with the Grilled Sticky, Creamery ice cream and mocking the Willard Preacher, but is it legal? One could be forgiven for assuming that something everyone does must be legal, but jaywalking is not legal anywhere in Pennsylvania, including Happy Valley. This essentially means that even some of the most wholesome and harmless Penn State students flout the law every day. CollegeandAllen.State.College.JPG

Cities Fight Public Urination by Spraying Back

St.Pauli.Pee.back.pngPublic Urination has gotten so bad in San Francisco that the city is now coating walls in a special type of paint, which sprays urine back onto the perpetrator. How bad is bad? How about so bad that a three-story-tall light post collapsed because it was corroded by years of human and canine urine. This must rank up there with the Cuyahoga River catching on fire in terms of pollution-caused absurdities!

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.
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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? gavel.pot.leaf.jpeg

Do Private Attorneys Get Better Plea Deals than Public Defenders?

The fact that private criminal defense attorneys always seemed to get better plea deals for their clients than public defenders irked me to no end during the five years that I spent as a public defender at the start of my career as a criminal defense lawyer. This discrepancy in plea offers extended to private counsel versus public defenders was so universally known that my mentor in the Public Defenders' Office would advise defendants charged with serious felonies, who had no viable defense to raise at trial, that they should hire a private attorney in order to maximize their chances of getting a favorable plea offer. It was not that my mentor was trying to avoid another client on his case load; he legitimately cared about the wellbeing of these defendants and was giving them solid advice. plea-deal-2-300x168.jpg

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