While many people are questioning why a person that was growing marijuana would call the police to report a theft, this case is very different in the marijuana grower was doing so legally in Maine. The 17 marijuana plants that were stolen had a total estimate value of slightly under $13,000.00. The police ultimately found the thief, charged him with burglary, and then returned the stolen marijuana plants to their lawful owner. Before returning the marijuana, the local police did make sure that doing so would not be a violation of Federal law. Generally speaking, marijuana distribution is illegal under Federal law even if it is permitted under state law. A few years ago, a United States Deputy Attorney General issued a memo advising that the Federal Government would not prosecute charges related to marijuana possession, marijuana growing, or marijuana distribution as long as the activities did not violate state law. So, while Federal law still prohibits marijuana growing and marijuana distribution, the Federal government simply chooses only prosecute such cases in states that have no legalized marijuana.
Pennsylvania Does Not Recognize Marijuana Prescriptions or Licenses From Other States
As most people know, Pennsylvania has not legalized marijuana, which meaning it is illegal to deliver, grow, or even possess marijuana. While some people are permitted in other states to possess, grow, and distribute marijuana for medicinal purposes, the prescriptions or legal licenses to possess marijuana are not valid in Pennsylvania. I recently had a client from Colorado that was traveling in Clearfield County and was stopped for a traffic violation. The client was in possession of a small amount of marijuana, for which he had a valid prescription in Colorado. To the client's surprise, the prescription was not recognized by the Clearfield County authorities as marijuana possession is simply illegal in Pennsylvania. The good news is that both the arresting trooper and the Clearfield County assistant district attorney handling the case exercised their prosecutorial discretion, understood that the client did not have a criminal intent in possessing the marijuana in Pennsylvania, and agreed to a favorable resolution for the client. My client was fortunate to have a reasonable trooper and prosecutor on the case. Not all prosecutors are so reasonable.
State College Prosecutions for Marijuana Possession and Distribution
In Pennsylvania, possessing a small amount of marijuana, meaning less than 30 grams, is a misdemeanor offense that carries a maximum sentence of 30 days incarceration and a $500.00 fine. While Underage Drinking is a summary offense, it actually carries a more severe sentence than Possession of a Small Amount of Marijuana, as Underage Drinking has a maximum sentence of 90 days incarceration and a $300.00 fine for a first offense or $500.00 for repeat offenses. Legislation is currently pending in Pennsylvania to increase the maximum fine for Underage Drinking to $1,000.00. A conviction of Marijuana Possession or Underage Drinking also results in a suspension of Pennsylvania driving privileges. In my opinion, the legislature should spend less time increasing fines and more time reducing the grading of the marijuana possession charge to a summary offense to reflect its overall harm to society.
While the penalties for a conviction of marijuana possession are not overly severe, a person that grows, delivers, or possesses with the intent to deliver marijuana is charged with a felony offense. While almost everyone knows that marijuana is illegal in Pennsylvania, many people believe that it is a less severe crime if they give marijuana to another person and do not actually sell it. Pennsylvania actually prohibits the "delivery" of marijuana and not just a "sale." Giving marijuana and selling marijuana is the same felony charge. Many people also believe that growing marijuana for their own personal use is not as severe a charge as growing marijuana to sell in the future. Again, the law does not distinguish growing marijuana for sale or for personal use. Any growing of marijuana, called "manufacturing" in Pennsylvania, is a felony offense.
Regrettably, many Penn State students find out the hard way that growing marijuana for personal use and giving marijuana to a friend is a felony offense. In my 8 years being a State College criminal defense lawyer and representing hundreds of Penn State students, I believe that the felony marijuana cases are the worst. I have a difficult time explaining to the Penn State student and his or her parents that the student's decision to give a small amount of marijuana to a high school friend in a State College fraternity subjects the student to felony charges and a two year mandatory minimum sentence since the offense occurred near Penn State's campus. It is heartbreaking to explain to a soon-to-be graduate that they are facing jail time and a felony record that will stick with them for the remainder of their lives. Not only with the felony record impact future job opportunities, but it can also impact their ability to give back to their communities. For example, I volunteer in the 4-year old class at my church, volunteer as an assistant coach in the local soccer league, and intend to go on field trips with my children at school. If I had a felony record for giving marijuana to a friend in college at the age of 18, I probably would not be able to participate in the community service related activities at the age of 35. Is it fair to impose a lifetime punishment on young adults?