Underage Drinking and Marijuana Use by Pennsylvania High School Seniors

According to a recent article, the percentage of high school seniors and even younger students that have consumed alcohol in Pennsylvania is higher than the national average. The article draws its data information from a 2013 Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency report.

Pennsylvania Underage Drinking Numbers

The number of high school seniors that have admitted to drinking alcohol is a staggering 74.2 percent, meaning almost three-quarters of kids graduating with a high school diploma have consumed booze. The national average for seniors is 68 percent. On a better note, the number of high school seniors that admitted to binge drinking in 2013 was 21.8 percent, which is actually a substantial declined from the 27.6 that admitted to such over-consumption in 2009. This means that  while the number of seniors that have tried alcohol is increasing, the number of students that are abusing alcohol is decreasing.

The consumption of any alcohol by a person under the age of 21 is a violation of the Underage Drinking law at 18 Pa.C.S.A. § 6308, and a conviction carries a fine and suspension of Pennsylvania driving privileges. For a first offense of Underage Drinking, the maximum sentence is 90 days in jail, a $500.00 fine, and a 90 day suspension of driving privileges. The penalties for a second offense increase to a $1,000.00 fine and 1 year license suspension, and subsequent convictions carry a 2 year license suspension. An Underage Drinker may be able to obtain a work or “bread and butter” license, legally called an Occupational Limited License (OLL) for a first offense, but repeat offenders are prohibited from obtaining an OLL.

Marijuana Use in Pennsylvania

Given the movement towards legalization and decriminalization of marijuana use across the country, one would expect to see that the number of high school seniors that admit to having tried marijuana is increasing. Surprisingly, the report shows a slight decrease in marijuana use, as the number of high school seniors that admit to having tried marijuana decreased from 41.1 in 2009 to 40.3 in 2013.

Marijuana use amongst high seniors may be on a slight decline, but I have not seen a similar decline in the use of marijuana by college students. As a defense attorney in State College, I represent many Penn State students who are charged with possession of marijuana, and those charges range from felonies to misdemeanors. The primary difference between the felony and misdemeanor charges is whether the person possessed the drugs with the intent to use them or possessed them with the intent to sell or distribute them. In Pennsylvania, if a person delivers, manufactures, or possesses a drug with the intent to deliver it, then the charge is a felony offense. If the person possesses the drug with the intent to personally use it, then the charge is a misdemeanor. Misdemeanor possession of most drugs is punishable by up to 1 year in jail and a $5,000.00 fine under 35 P.S. § 780-113(a)(16). With regard to marijuana, there is a slightly less severe misdemeanor charge if the amount of weed involved is less than 30 grams. In such a scenario, the charge under 35 P.S. § 780-113(a)(31) is punishable by up to 30 days in jail and a $500.00 fine.

While the marijuana possession charge is slightly less severe, it is still a misdemeanor offense, and such an offense would appear on criminal background searches. The current law in Pennsylvania does not allow for the expungement of misdemeanor charges, so a conviction of drug possession would remain on a person’s record unless the person obtains a pardon. Aside from the criminal record, there are additional collateral consequences that stem from a conviction, such as the suspension of Pennsylvania driving privileges and the potential loss of financial aid. Any person charged in Centre County with marijuana possession or possession of any drug should consult with an experienced State College criminal defense attorney.