Marijuana Arrests: The Impact of Decriminalization in PhiladelphiaJuly 8, 2019
In 2014, Philadelphia decriminalized marijuana, a major step toward criminal justice reform. And just like that, an action that once warranted misdemeanor criminal charges, up to 30 days in jail, and a $500 fine became a civil offense that only involves a citation and $25 fine.
This forward-thinking move made—and continues to make—a difference in the lives of countless Pennsylvanians. With this step, Philadelphia became the largest city in the country to remove criminal charges for possession of fewer than 30 grams of marijuana.
Data retrieved from Pennsylvania’s Uniform Crime Reporting System indicates a substantial reduction in arrests for marijuana possession charges since the city’s progressive move. In the first four months of 2014, law enforcement officials arrested 982 people in Philadelphia County for possession of marijuana; whereas, the first four months of 2019 only involved 132 arrests, an 87 percent reduction in arrests.
Legal and collateral consequences remain for marijuana arrests and convictions, however. Consulting an experienced criminal defense attorney can help to minimize and even eliminate those penalties.
The Decriminalization Progresses
On the heels of Philadelphia’s forward-thinking initiative, arrests dropped and other cities in the state began to follow suit. Hopefully, this is a trend that will continue, as marijuana legalization continues to spread and make headlines on a national scale. Some of the other cities that impose only civil penalties for small amounts of marijuana include:
- Allentown – 30 grams or less, $25 fine
- Erie – 30 grams or less, $25 fine
- Harrisburg – 30 grams or less, $75 to $150 fine
- Lancaster – 1 ounce or less, $25 to $75 fine
- Philadelphia – 30 grams or less, $25 fine
- Pittsburgh – 30 grams or less, $25 fine
- State College – 30 grams or less, $250 fine
- York – 30 grams or less, $100 fine
What the Law Says Today
The use of marijuana for medical purposes became legal in Pennsylvania on April 6, 2016, when Governor Wolf signed the relevant bill into law. Officials expected the state’s Department of Health to need between 18 and 24 months to get the medical marijuana program up and running.
On February 15, 2018—right on schedule, medical marijuana became available at approved dispensaries for patients with approved serious medical problems, including:
- Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis
- Cancer and remission therapy
- Crohn’s disease
- Damage to the central nervous system
- A spastic movement disorder
- Huntington’s Disease
- Inflammatory bowel disease
- Intractable seizures
- Multiple sclerosis
- A neurodegenerative condition
- Parkinson’s disease
- Post-traumatic stress disorder
- Chronic or intractable pain
- Sickle cell anemia
- Terminal illness
Furthermore, Pennsylvania may be on track toward full legalization, much like Colorado, Oregon, and other states that have fully legalized the sale, possession, and consumption of marijuana. Democratic senators Daylin Leach and Sharif Street have released the basic points of proposed legislation that would legalize recreational marijuana for adult use and regulate the sale and taxation of cannabis. Senator Street’s website states the following:
“An end to the prohibition of cannabis is overdue. It is time for us to join the emerging cannabis economy with the legalization of the Adult Use of Cannabis in PA., which should not be a crime when responsibly used by adults nor mandate medical oversight. The economic imperatives are too great. We also have a moral mandate to correct the damage that disparate enforcement of our Marijuana Laws has done and is still doing to communities across the commonwealth.”
If passed, the law would legally permit the following:
- An economically competitive licensing process, with no limit to the number of available permits
- Automatic expungement of previous marijuana-related convictions
- Commutation of sentences resulting from previous marijuana-related convictions
- Home delivery
- Licensed cannabis lounges
- Sanctioned home cultivation (of up to 6 plants) for personal consumption
- Tax revenue channeled into public education
The proposal also includes the formulation of a tuition-free cannabis business institute to educate potential business owners about compliance with regulatory agencies and start-up pointers for small businesses. Graduates of this program would then be eligible to apply for state loans and grants to jump-start their businesses.
Playing What Cards We Have
Although some cities statewide have already amended their laws, and it appears that Pennsylvania’s marijuana future is rapidly changing, state authorities still must uphold the state’s current marijuana-related penalties, which are:
For possession of 30 grams or less
- Misdemeanor charge of up to 30 days in jail
- A fine of $500
For possession of more than 30 grams
- 1 year in jail
- $5,000 fine
- Six-month revocation of driver’s license
For smoking marijuana in public
- $100 fine
- Community service
Because They Can
Buying any controlled substance (marijuana is still considered a controlled substance) from an unlawful source remains a crime. Section 13(a) 19 of the Pennsylvania Controlled Substances Drugs, Device, and Cosmetics Act of 1972 is a stand-alone crime. Even in the face of decriminalization and a changing attitude regarding marijuana, this law entitles police to continue making arrests for the possession of under 30 grams of cannabis.
Although it may be possible for first-time offenders to receive probation in lieu of more serious consequences, for those with previous convictions, courts can actually double the penalties. Additionally, in this situation, offenders face the possibility of being charged with drug possession with intent to deliver or distribute.
Why You Still Need a Lawyer
Don’t let local decriminalization make you complacent. If you or a family member is facing criminal charges related to marijuana, you call a criminal defense attorney with the experience and the resources to help you fight the charges and hopefully keep your criminal record clean. Call (215) 546-0340 as soon as possible so your attorney can immediately begin gathering evidence and mounting your legal defense.