As a State College criminal defense lawyer, I routinely represent Penn State students, alums, and other Centre County residents and visitors that have been charged with offenses related to drug possession, especially marijuana. What is shocking to most of these people is that a guilty plea or conviction to a drug possession charge invokes a mandatory suspension of Pennsylvania driving privileges. The fact that the criminal charge had nothing to do with a vehicle does not matter. The suspension is mandatory and cannot be reduced by a judge or the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation. The only way to avoid the suspension is to avoid a conviction or guilty plea to the drug offense.
Many people would understand that suspension if a person could obtain an Occupational Limited License (OLL), commonly referred to as a "bread and butter" license, which would allow the person to drive to and from work, school, or medical appointments. Many people accept the fact that they made a mistake by getting caught with some marijuana or other drug, and they are willing to accept the consequences, but they would like to be able to at least drive to and from work. What is more troubling to them is when I explain that Pennsylvania law does allow first-time DUI offenders to get an OLL after serving the first 60 days of a 1 year suspension. And their response is often, "so a person that gets drunk and gets behind the wheel of a car can get a work license, but in my case, which had nothing to do with a car, I am not eligible for such a license." My response is that there are many things in the law that do not make sense.
Drug Possession Charges May Allow OLL in Future
There is a proposed amendment to the Pennsylvania Occupational Limited License law that would allow people that are facing a license suspension for a drug possession or drug-related offense to obtain an OLL after serving 60 days of the suspension as long as the applicant does not have a prior offense. If the person had a prior offense of drug possession in Pennsylvania, in another state, or in Federal court, then the person could not receive an OLL. The new law would make a person eligible to receive an OLL after 60 days, but eligibility is not a guarantee that PennDOT will issue the bread and butter license. PennDOT reviews every application individually and retains authority to deny issuance.
I am hoping that this law is passed and signed into law by the governor in the near future. It simply makes no sense that a person that was convicted of a first-offense of DUI may be eligible to obtain limited driving privileges whereas a person facing a suspension drug-related offense cannot. People that plead guilty to a criminal charge generally have to pay fines and court costs, and it is difficult to pay those costs if the person cannot drive to and from work. The proposed bill before the House can be viewed here.