Although 59% of Pennsylvania voters think it should be legal for adults to use marijuana, state law lags far behind popular sentiment. Pennsylvanians found with cannabis can still be locked in a jail cell and branded criminals.
But that could change soon. Yesterday, the House Judiciary Committee approved a decriminalization bill, H.B. 928. Unfortunately, however, it first amended the bill to exclude minors and people in vehicles from decriminalization.
Currently, simple possession is a misdemeanor carrying up to 30 days in jail and/or a fine of up to $500, plus a six-month or one-year driver’s license suspension.
Except in the case of minors, possession in cars, or possession on school property, H.B. 928 would downgrade first and second offense possession of under 30 grams to a summary offense carrying a fine of no more than $300. Subsequent convictions would be misdemeanors carrying up to a $1,000 fine, but with no jail time.
Please take a moment to ask your rep to support H.B. 928, but to work to amend the bill. Let them know: Minors should also not be incarcerated for cannabis, and criminalizing possession in cars will still senselessly ruin lives.
Then, spread the word to others, so that they, too, can raise their voices.
Marijuana reform is a hot topic of conversation in state legislatures around the country and not just in traditionally liberal states like California and Rhode Island. In fact, bills to make marijuana possession punishable by a fine only, rather than jail time, were introduced this year in conservative bastions like Arizona and Tennessee, and it’s a too-well-kept secret that such laws have been on the books since the '70s in Mississippi, Nebraska, Ohio, and several other less-than-liberal states.
You can now add Indiana to the list of states where the conversation has gone mainstream. Last week, influential Republican state Senator Brent Steele (R-Bedford) announced he’d be introducing legislation to make possession of up to 10 grams of marijuana an “infraction,” punishable by fine, rather than a criminal misdemeanor.
"We have to ask ourselves as a society, do we really want to be locking people up for having a couple of joints in their pocket," Steele told local media. "Is that how we want to be spending our criminal justice resources?" Steele also pointed out that several other states have already embraced similar policies, noting that “society didn’t melt down, and we didn’t turn into a drug-crazed culture as a result of it.”
Similar legislation has been introduced before by state Senator Karen Tallian (D-Portage), but without the support of Republicans, who hold a majority in both chambers, it never got off the ground. Speculation is that Steele’s support could change that. Steele, who is closely allied with Indiana prosecutors and is described by Indiana political veterans as a “rock-ribbed law-and-order guy,” chairs the powerful Senate Committee on Corrections, Criminal and Civil Matters where the bill would likely be assigned.
The City of Brotherly Love just got a little kinder.
Beginning today, anyone in Philadelphia who is found possessing up to one ounce of marijuana could have his or her charge downgraded from a misdemeanor to a summary offense.
Under the new policy, which was announced in April by new district attorney Seth Williams, offenders will still be processed by law enforcement, but most can have their records expunged after they take a class and pay a $200 fine. Officials hope the change will help clear the city’s clogged court system.
From the Philadelphia Inquirer:
"You're still arrested, you're still brought in, you're still fingerprinted, you're still given a prelim," said Tasha Jamerson, spokeswoman for the District Attorney's Office.
Only at the preliminary arraignment are procedures changing, as many cases will be "diverted" from misdemeanor charges, said McCann.
That won't be automatic either.
Some reasons for withholding leniency for pot possession include attempting to sell, being caught during a serious crime, and having a criminal record.”
While the new policy is a far cry from removing all penalties for marijuana possession, it is certainly a step in the right direction.