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Posts tagged "Decriminalization"

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.

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

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.

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? 

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