Will Penn State Decriminalize Possession of a Small Amount Marijuana for Personal Use?

According to online news reports, the State College Borough is considering following the lead of Pittsburgh and Philadelphia and passing a local ordinance to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana. This does not mean that marijuana is now legal in Pennsylvania. In Pennsylvania, a person that possesses less than 30 grams of marijuana for personal use is normally charged with a misdemeanor offense under 35 P.S. § 780-113(a)(31). The charge carries a maximum sentence of 30 days in jail, a $500.00 fine, and results in a Pennsylvania license suspension. While cities and boroughs may create new, lesser offenses for possession of weed, the officer could still choose to file the misdemeanor criminal offense.

While I doubt that the decriminalization of marijuana will actually pass in State College, the issue did make me wonder if Penn State would follow the borough’s lead and either pass a similar rule or simply choose to forgo criminal charges and instead punish the matter through the school’s disciplinary system. While the University Park campus is located in State College, the borough ordinances do not apply to campus property. For example, a person is prohibited by borough ordinance from having an open container of alcohol in State College, but that ordinance does not apply to campus, which is why you will readily see open containers on campus at Penn State football tailgates.

Marijuana Possession at Penn State

Many parents and students are surprised to discover that the Penn State University Police are legitimate cops and not just a private security force.  Some schools use private security personnel to police the campus, and those “police” do not have actual police authority to file criminal charges.  Instead, such matters are handled internally through the school’s disciplinary system.  The Penn State police can, and routinely do, file criminal charges based upon illegal conduct.

In a routine case at Penn State, a student that is caught smoking marijuana in the dorm receives both criminal charges and is subject to the school’s disciplinary system. A person that is caught smoking or in possession often has some smoking device, such as a pipe, lighter, or grinder, which is considered “drug paraphernalia” under the law. The person is charged with both marijuana possession and a misdemeanor offense of possession of drug paraphernalia. First-time offenders of misdemeanor drug charges often have those charges dismissed and expunged by completing a first-time offender program called Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition (ARD).

With regard to the Student Conduct system, the student must meet with a case manager to review the incident. If the student admits to the violation, a first-time offender would normally be placed on disciplinary probation for a period of time and required to complete some form of treatment, which is an education program called Marijuana Intervention Program (MIP) for low level use or drug counseling for higher quantity users.

If Penn State chose to forgo filing criminal charges and instead punished marijuana possession via the school’s disciplinary process, it would reduce the caseload at the Centre County court in Bellefonte. It would reduce the number of Penn State students graduating with misdemeanor convictions on their records for possession of marijuana, making it easier for grads to find employment in a competitive job market. Again, I doubt that State College will be decriminalizing marijuana anytime in the near future, and I do not believe that Penn State will either.