As many people are aware, the State College Borough recently passed an ordinance to allow the State College Police Department to issue a non-traffic summary citation for a person who is caught smoking or in possession of less than thirty grams of marijuana. According to many online newspaper articles, this is being called the decriminalization of marijuana in State College. Regrettably, many people are associating the word "decriminalization" to mean legalization, and many people do not realize that the ordinance charge is only available in the State College Borough and not all of the area commonly called State College. The confusion of the new ordinance's applicability is actually likely to cause Penn State students to openly engage in marijuana-related activities that they believe are now legal.
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.
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.
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.
A Connecticut attorney recently received a citation for drug possession after marijuana fell from his pocket while he was in court. According to a paralegal at the firm where the attorney worked, a parent had confiscated marijuana from her child, and the parent provided the marijuana to the attorney along with a request that the attorney talk to the juvenile. The story proceeds that the attorney put the weed in his pocket and forgot about it until the marijuana fell from his pocket in court. The story sounds a little farfetched, and it does become harder for me to believe after one discovers that the quantity of marijuana involved was alleged to have been approximately two ounces.
In the fall of 2014, star Pittsburgh Steeler running back Leveon Bell was charged with a misdemeanor marijuana possession and various drug-DUI charges. Bell was charged after marijuana was found in a vehicle that had been driven by Bell. Bell admitted to having contributed money to purchase the marijuana and to having smoked some of the marijuana earlier in the day, but he denied that he was actually high at the time that he was driving. Bell thought that he was able to legally drive in Pennsylvania and avoid drunk driving charges as long as he was not high while driving. Regrettably for Bell, he was wrong about the law, and ignorance of the law is not a defense.
According to a Palm Beach Post article, a Florida woman, who had been arrested for suspicion of DUI, was handcuffed and seated in the police cruiser when marijuana evidence that had been found in the woman's car disappeared from the police cruiser. The officer is quoted as saying "bags of weed just don't go missing inside a police car." The officer used his investigative skills and deductive reasoning to realize that if he didn't take the marijuana, then the woman handcuffed in the back of his cruiser must have. He questioned the woman about whether or not she had escaped from her cuffs and had eaten the drug evidence, and she admitted to having broken free from her restraints. The article also mentions that the woman had pot on her face and hands, so the weed crumbs provided additional evidence about the disappearance of the marijuana. I'm sure that most of us have seen milk mustaches and cookie crumbs on the faces of our children, but I doubt that we have witnessed marijuana crumbs on someone's face.
I am sure that many people have seen that Philadelphia is in the process of de-criminalizing the possession of less than 30 grams of marijuana for personal use. Decriminalization does not mean that marijuana possession is now completely legal in Philadelphia. Pennsylvania laws that prohibit the possession of marijuana for personal use are still valid and enforceable across the state of Pennsylvania, including Philadelphia. The Philadelphia law adds a civil, meaning non-criminal charge, of marijuana possession that can be filed by the officer. It is up to the officer whether he or she issues a civil citation for possession of less than 30 grams of weed or instead files the misdemeanor criminal charge under 35 P.S. § 780-113(a)(31).
A Pittsburgh area police officer recently stopped a vehicle after smelling marijuana coming from the car. Imagine the officer's surprise when he discovered that two of the three occupants in the car were Pittsburgh Steelers running backs. I am sure that the officer would have preferred to see the Steelers star players at Heinz Field as opposed to being part of a marijuana possession investigation. Because the one player was behind the wheel at the time, he was arrested for suspicion of driving under the influence. Both players were charged with Possession of a Small Amount of Marijuana under 35 P.S. § 780-113(a)(31), an ungraded misdemeanor, punishable by up to 30 days in jail, a $500.00 fine, and a suspension of Pennsylvania driving privileges. One player was also charged with Driving Under Influence under 75 Pa.C.S.A. § 3802(d)(2), which is also an ungraded misdemeanor. If this were a first offense of DUI, the maximum sentence for this charge would be 6 months incarceration, a $5,000.00 fine, and a 12-month suspension of Pennsylvania driving privileges.
While many states have de-criminalized or even legalized marijuana, it is still illegal in Pennsylvania and under federal law. Many people wonder why the federal government does not prosecute people in states like Colorado where marijuana is openly sold and used because of the state law legalizing pot. Years ago, the Department of Justice issued a memo that advised that the federal government would not prosecute marijuana charges if the person using, possessing, or growing marijuana was acting in compliance with states laws. If the person is violating state marijuana laws, then the federal government may still choose to prosecute a case.