Why Does Pennsylvania Suspend a Driver’s License for Drug Possession?

Massachusetts recently repealed a law that had been on the books for almost 30 years which imposed a license suspension for drug possession crimes even though the offenses had nothing to do with driving or a vehicle. According to a Boston Herald article, the legislation was actually supported by law enforcement and passed unanimously by both the House and Senate before being signed by the governor.

Pennsylvania License Suspensions For Drugs

Most people understand and support the idea that individuals convicted of serious traffic offenses like DUI and Reckless Driving should have their licenses suspended for a period of time. People expect that if a violation of the law involves bad driving, then the driver should be punished with a license suspension. What does not make sense is that Pennsylvania has various laws on the books that impose suspensions for convictions that are not related to driving, such as drug possession and Underage Drinking. For example, a Penn State student that is caught smoking marijuana in his dorm room is convicted of Possession of a Small Amount of Marijuana, and, under 75 Pa.C.SA. § 1532(c), the student faces a suspension of at least 6 months. If the same student was under 21 and had alcohol in his dorm room, the person is charged with Possession of Alcohol by a Minor, and under 18 Pa.C.S.A. § 6310.4, the student incurs another suspension of at least 90 days. If the student had prior drug possession or underage drinking convictions, the suspensions would be much longer, increasing to 1 year for a second offense and 2 years for every subsequent offense.

Some first-time DUI offenders, those having a blood alcohol level under .10%, do not incur any license suspension. How does Pennsylvania law make any sense to suspend a license for a non-driving offense while not suspending for a serious driving offense like driving under the influence?

Pennsylvania Work License

Many people also incorrectly assume that Pennsylvania residents are able to obtain a work or “bread and butter” license that at least allows a person to drive to and from work. In Pennsylvania, the work license is called an Occupational Limited License (OLL), and the limited license generally allows a person to drive to and from work, school, and medical appointments. The problem is that few people are eligible to receive such a license. For example, a person suffering from a suspension for a drug charge like possession with intent to deliver a drug or possession of marijuana is not eligible to receive an OLL license. As a result the college student smoking weed in the dorm is not able to drive, so he either can’t get a job working over the summer, or he must burden his parents by forcing them to drive him around for summer employment.

With regard to work license eligibility to offset a license suspension for an Underage Drinking conviction, a first-time offender is eligible to receive an OLL. However, a second or third conviction of Underage Drinking, meaning a person incurring a 1 or 2 year suspension, is not eligible to obtain an OLL. Students graduating from Penn State, trying to enter a difficult job market, are prevented from driving because they pleaded guilty to a drinking charge that had no relation to driving.

Hopefully Pennsylvania wakes up, follows the path of Massachusetts, and repeals these antiquated license suspension laws. People convicted of drug possession charges and Underage Drinking should not face lengthy license suspensions. Pennsylvania should be encouraging such people to work and pay the court costs and fines instead of preventing people from working by stripping them of their licenses.