State College Did Not Legalize Marijuana Use

While the State College Borough’s decision to pass an ordinance to create non-criminal charge to use if people possess less than 30 grams of marijuana is being touted as a “decriminalization of marijuana,” that simply is not the case.  First, a police officer in State College may use the ordinance violation, but the officer is NOT required to use that violation and can instead still file a criminal charge.  The misdemeanor offense of Possession of a Small Amount of Marijuana under 35 P.S. § 780-113(a)(31) remains viable and on the books, and the officer is permitted to use this charge.  A person possessing less than 30 grams of marijuana does not have a legal right to be charged with the ordinance violation.  Also, it must be noted that charges associated with marijuana, such as a misdemeanor Possession of Drug Paraphernalia and a felony charge of Delivery of Marijuana remain the law in Pennsylvania, and no State College Borough ordinance was created to deal with those charges.

Marijuana Delivery Is a Felony

The news of State College’s “decriminalization of marijuana” is going to spread across the University Park Campus of State College very quickly. I fear that Penn State students who return to State College and University Park in the fall of 2016 will assume that everything to do with marijuana is now decriminalized and thereby permitted. The problem is that only possession of marijuana has been exempted from criminal charges.

How Does a Person Obtain Marijuana?

If a person grows marijuana, that is called “manufacturing,” and manufacturing or growing marijuana is a felony offense. Because marijuana has been decriminalized, a person can legally sell marijuana to a friend, right? Wrong. Selling marijuana to a person is considered a “delivery” of marijuana, and drug delivery is also a felony offense. A person charged with manufacturing or delivering marijuana faces a maximum sentence of 5 years in jail and a $15,000.00 fine.

What About Marijuana Paraphernalia?

How does a person carry or transport marijuana? How does a person ingest or smoke marijuana? With what is considered paraphernalia. Pennsylvania law defines “drug paraphernalia” as all equipment, products and materials of any kind which are used, intended for use or designed for use in planting, propagating, cultivating, growing, harvesting, manufacturing, compounding, converting, producing, processing, preparing, testing, analyzing, packaging, repackaging, storing, containing, concealing, injecting, ingesting, inhaling or otherwise introducing into the human body a controlled substance in violation of this act.” Basically, drug paraphernalia is anything that allows a person to transport or ingest marijuana, such as a baggy, lighter, pipe, bong, or rolling papers. I am sure that people will say that a lighter is not paraphernalia because it is not illegal to possess. Most articles of paraphernalia can be legal to possess. Lighters, rolling papers, and baggies are not automatically paraphernalia. Those items become paraphernalia and thereby become illegal to possess when they are found near or being used in association with an illegal drug.

A charge of Possession of Drug Paraphernalia under 35 P.S. § 780-113(a)(32) is an ungraded misdemeanor and punishable by up to 1 year in jail and a $2,500.00. Unlike a marijuana possession or drug delivery charge, a conviction of possession of drug paraphernalia does not result in a suspension of a Pennsylvania driver’s license or Pennsylvania driving privileges.

Ignorance Is Not Bliss

While I understand that the State College Borough is trying to be progressive in its thinking and follow the national trend towards legalization of marijuana, the problem is that the baby steps that were taken are likely to cause additional problems. Too many Penn State students will believe that marijuana has been legalized, so they will feel that they can smoke and sell to one another without any criminal penalties. I expect to see a rise in felony marijuana delivery charges. Obviously, selling weed to someone has been going on for years, but the sellers tried to hide their activities because everyone knew that it was illegal. Now, with students believing that marijuana has been legalized, they will think that selling marijuana is also permitted. I expect that many students will learn the hard way that marijuana remains illegal in Happy Valley when they are charged with possession of drug paraphernalia or felony marijuana distribution along with the non-traffic summary citation of marijuana possession.