While many states have de-criminalized or even legalized marijuana, it is still illegal in Pennsylvania and under federal law. Many people wonder why the federal government does not prosecute people in states like Colorado where marijuana is openly sold and used because of the state law legalizing pot. Years ago, the Department of Justice issued a memo that advised that the federal government would not prosecute marijuana charges if the person using, possessing, or growing marijuana was acting in compliance with states laws. If the person is violating state marijuana laws, then the federal government may still choose to prosecute a case.
A marijuana activist and member of NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws) recently attended a weed rally in Philadelphia near the Liberty Bell and smoked pot. The man was surprised that he was charged with violating federal marijuana possession laws. The U.S. Attorney that prosecuted the case said that he had been given orders from Attorney General Eric Holder that marijuana laws are to be enforced at federal parks because such areas are often frequented by children on school trips or on vacation with parents. He also stated that visitors to the parks should be able to enjoy the sites without seeing people smoking marijuana and breaking the law.
According to the philly.com article about the incident, this was not the first time the activist was charged with marijuana possession. The first offense resulted in a fine of $175.00, but the second offense resulted in a much stiffer penalty, including a $3,000.00 fine, 2 years of supervised probation, and a prohibition from being within 100 feet of Independent National Historic Park when marijuana rallies are held.
Marijuana Possession is Illegal in Pennsylvania
I represent many Penn State students that have been charged with marijuana-related offenses, from relatively minor misdemeanor possession offenses under 35 P.S. § 780-113(a)(31) to more severe felony offenses of delivery or possession with intent to deliver under 35 P.S. § 780-113(a)(30). A conviction of a drug possession charge results in a criminal record, suspension of Pennsylvania driver's license, and a sentence that would include probation or jail and payment of fines and costs. The felony charges are very problematic because the severe charge often results in the student's removal from Penn State through the student disciplinary process administered by the Office of Student Conduct. College kids often think that selling a small amount of marijuana or giving an Adderall pill to a friend isn't a big deal, but it's a felony charge in Pennsylvania. Also, the Centre County District Attorney prosecutes the drug delivery and possession with intent to deliver charges aggressively and threatens to send the student to state prison for 2 year under the drug-free school zone mandatory sentencing law. While some counties have held that the school zone law is illegal, a Centre County judge held that the school zone mandatory sentence was constitutional and could be used by the Bellefonte prosecutor.
Clients and parents do not understand why the Penn State police and the Centre County District Attorney's Office continue to aggressively investigate and prosecute marijuana cases in light of the push for legalization and the statements from the president in which he equates marijuana to alcohol and cigarette use. The problem is that the president's statements and the change in laws in other places do not impact county prosecutors in Central Pennsylvania or anywhere across the state. Marijuana possession remains a crime in Pennsylvania, and district attorneys will continue to prosecute weed possession cases.