Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Pennsylvania's De Facto Decriminalization of Marijuana

Under Pennsylvania law, possession of even a small amount of marijuana (under 30 grams) is a misdemeanor punishable by a $500 fine and up to 30 days in the hoosegow. But it appears that there is a movement afoot for a de facto decriminalization of possession of small amounts for personal use.

Five years ago, western Pennsylvania police chiefs told reporters that a person caught with a small amount of marijuana is usually let off the hook with disorderly conduct or some traffic citation, a summary offense that creates no criminal record. I've been told by people in law enforcement that the same thing happens here in the Lehigh Valley, too.

Earlier this month, Philly DA Seth Williams announced changes in "small marijuana-possession cases. No, this is not decriminalization of pot. Virtually everyone arrested and convicted for possession of small amounts of marijuana will receive the same kind of sentence they would have in the past. We are simply expediting the processing of these cases (there are several thousand a year), so we can focus on more serious crimes."

In 2008, Philly prosecuted 4716 adults, 70% of whom were black, for the stand alone offense of possessing a small amount of marijuana. Williams' solution is de facto, if not de jure, decriminalization. Basically it's a $200 fine for disorderly conduct. Second offenders get hit with a $300 bill.

Now, Berks County DA John Adams is jumping on this bandwagon, too. He wants to prosecute cases involving small amounts of marijuana in district court instead of county courts. The charge? Disorderly conduct.

But don't break out your bong in Northampton County. I talked to DA John Morganelli yesterday, and he has a different view. "I do not support routinely replacing the charge with District Court because that basically makes marijuana legal, which it is not presently. We dispose almost ALL these cases via ARD [Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition, a special program for first offenders]".
Update (10:00 AM): I have just learned that a conviction for possession of even a small amount of marijuana carries an automatic 6-month suspension of driving privileges, too.
Mea Culpa, Mea Culpa, Mea Maxima Culpa: I screwed up in stating Northampton Couny DA John Morganelli's position. He supports ARD in District Court. I have posted a separate blog to make it clear.

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

There is a huge consequence when District Attorneys start changing the charges from possession of a small amount of marijuana to disorderly conduct. If a person is found guilty of possession of a small amount of marijuana, the Sheriff shall not issue a license to carry firearms. If a person is found guilty of disorderly conduct, then the Sheriff may issue a license. So, in effect, the consequence is the District Attorneys allow users of marijuana the continued ability to legally carry firearms.

Anonymous said...

"So, in effect, the consequence is the District Attorneys allow users of marijuana the continued ability to legally carry firearms."


yeah, but they won't be particularly quick on the draw...

Anonymous said...

It's nice to know that druggies can still pack!

Anonymous said...

I'd rather have a pothead carrying a firearm than a drunk..Anytime.
The Philly and berks DA's are just being sensible. Unlike ours they aren't always looking over their shoulder for a future political run..The decriminalization of pot is long overdue..It makes so much sense even Bill Buckley supported it.

Anonymous said...

"Druggies?" Take a look at any bar in the valley this afternoon and ask yourself who'd you rather have firearms.

Anonymous said...

Great point, 8:54..Great point!!

Bernie O'Hare said...

I believe that police officers, bu their willingness to reduce possession charges to disorderly conduct, are taking a sensible approach. If possession of a small amount of weed were dangerous, the people enforcing our criminal laws would be much less willing to negotiaite these charges away.

Resident of Allentown said...

I brought up this subject when Dent was at LCCC and even he agreed it would be more fiscally responsible to legalize but said he felt it was more of an issue for libertarians. I think like most politicos it was a hot potato issue he did not wish to discuss. At this same meeting there was someone who said he was a Bethlehen police officer who said he would have no problem with legalization. He said he never had a pot smoker barfing on him or trying to slug him as the drinkers are prone to do.