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]".
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.