On August 1, 2016, the State College Borough passed an ordinance that created a new violation of the State College Borough code that made possession of less than 30 grams of marijuana a summary, non-traffic offense. According to the proposed ordinance, a person caught smoking in public will receive a non-traffic summary citation that will be filed with the local Magisterial District Court; a public smoker is subject to a $350.00 fine and a person that is caught merely possessing the marijuana will receive a $250.00 fine.
Limited Application Misdemeanor Marijuana Possession on the Penn State Campus
The biggest problem that I foresee with the new ordinance is limited application and coverage. The ordinance was passed by the State College Borough and therefore only applies to marijuana possession incidents within the borough. Many Penn State students do live in student housing within the borough, but many others reside in other areas of State College that are outside boroughlines, such as Patton and Ferguson Townships. Also, the University Park Campus of Penn State is technically not governed by the borough code. Because the new ordinance does not apply to those areas, current Pennsylvania law will still apply in those areas, which means people there face the misdemeanor possession offense.
News of the new borough ordinance is going to spread across the Penn State campus very quickly, and I expect that most students will assume that the borough ordinance applies to all of State College. The freshman who is forced to reside on campus in East Halls and is caught smoking a joint will be charged with misdemeanor possession, but the senior who resides in an apartment downtown will be issued a summary citation for the same charge. I know that I am going to get a ton of complaints from prospective clients and parents that it is not fair that all of State College is not covered by the ordinance. I will explain that a person who is smoking marijuana at the University Gates on Allen Street faces a misdemeanor possession charge, but had that person crossed the street and smoked in front of the Corner Room, he or she would have been issued a summary citation. Regrettably, the law is not fair. According to an online article, Penn State advised the State College Borough that the university would continue to apply current Pennsylvania law, so Penn State students caught on campus will continue to face misdemeanor criminal charges and have the matter handled with the student disciplinary process through the Penn State Office of Student Conduct.
Misconceptions with New Ordinance
The ordinance is limited to marijuana possession and does not cover paraphernalia possession. The student smoking a joint would be charged with marijuana possession, but the student smoking with a bong or pipe would face a summary citation for possessing marijuana but a misdemeanor paraphernalia possession charge as well.
Again, I want to state that I believe that the passage of this ordinance could be a step in the right direction to making the punishment fit the crime. My fear is that people will overestimate the reduction. Students will assume that the non-traffic citations will not appear on criminal background searches, which is not true. Non-traffic citations can appear on searches, just like other non-traffic summary charges, so they can be considered by employers. Students charged with the summary marijuana possession charges should still consult with a State College defense attorney to see if the matter can be resolved in a manner that allows for the dismissal and possible expungement of the violation. Even if marijuana possession is only a summary offense, it is still an offense, meaning still a violation of the law. Over the years, I have talked to too many people who did not think that summary violations, such as Underage Drinking, Public Drunkenness, or Retail Theft, were a big deal and would not appear on criminal background searches, only to find out the hard way that