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State College Cabbie Gets Illegal Payment of Marijuana from Passenger

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I am used to people giving me tips that I do not want, such as my father-in-law telling me to never eat the yellow snow. A State College taxi driver was also recently given a tip that he didn't want, a small amount of marijuana.  While marijuana is legal or de-criminalized in other states, it remains illegal to possess marijuana in Pennsylvania. Possession of less than 30 grams of marijuana is an ungraded misdemeanor offense under 35 P.S. 780-113(a)(31) and punishable by up to 30 days in jail and a $500.00 fine. If more than 30 grams were involved, then a slightly more severe misdemeanor charge is filed under 35 P.S. 780-113(a)(16), punishable by up to 1 year in jail and a $5,000.00 fine. A conviction of a misdemeanor drug offense in Pennsylvania also results in a suspension of driving privileges.

Could the Marijuana Tipper be Charged with a Felony Delivery Offense?

Many people believe that it is only a crime to sell drugs, but Pennsylvania actually prohibits a person from the "delivery" of drugs, which means that a sale or financial transaction is not required. In most situations, the drug dealer did in fact sell the drugs, so the distinction between a sale and a delivery doesn't matter. However, as in this case, it appears that the tipster gave the marijuana to the driver as a tip. The fact that the passenger gave the weed without any financial gain does not matter.

Had the police been able to identify the passenger, I suspect that they would have arrested him, taken him before a State College judge, and charged him with a felony charge of Delivery of Marijuana, 35 P.S. 780-113(a)(30). With the charge occurring in State College, there is a high likelihood that the delivery occurred within a "school zone" and would thereby subject the passenger to a 2-year mandatory minimum sentence if convicted.

Marijuana Sale or Marijuana Gift

While the distinction between a sale and a gift of drugs generally does not make a difference in a felony delivery case, when the delivery involves less than 30 grams of marijuana, an argument can be made that the police should file an ungraded misdemeanor offense. Under 35 P.S. 780-113(a)(31)(iii), a person is prohibited from "the distribution of a small amount of marihuana but not for sale." In this case, the passenger distributed or gave a small amount of marijuana to the driver, but he did not sell it.

As noted above, I do not believe that the State College police would file the misdemeanor offense but would instead file the felony charge, either because the police were not aware of the lesser charge or simply because they often file the more severe charge for negotiating leverage. This shows the importance of hiring an experienced criminal defense attorney. An attorney that does not routinely handle marijuana or drug offenses would not be so familiar with the Pennsylvania drug laws and thereby would not know the appropriate argument to make.

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