On October 9, 2018, the Pennsylvania House Judiciary Committee voted to move forward on a bill that would decriminalize possession of a small amount of marijuana (that is, 30 grams or less) statewide. To become law, the bill – House Bill 928 – must be approved by both the Pennsylvania House and Senate and be signed by the Governor. Governor Tom Wolf has previously indicated he supports decriminalization of possession of small amounts of marijuana.
As the law currently stands, Possession of a Small Amount of Marijuana is an ungraded Misdemeanor and allows for imprisonment of up to 30 days. House Bill 928 would, in most cases, eliminate the possibility of jail time for a conviction of Possession of a Small Amount of Marijuana, which would only be punishable by a fine. Moreover, the bill would make a first or second conviction of Possession of a Small Amount of Marijuana a summary offense. A third or subsequent conviction of Possession of Small Amount of Marijuana would be a misdemeanor, but, again, would not carry the possibility of jail time. It should be noted that if the offender is under the age of 18 or possesses marijuana in a motor vehicle or on the grounds of a school, even a first offense would be a misdemeanor, and it would still carry the possibility of up to 30 days imprisonment. Once again, our legislature fails us. Who really believes the average citizen will know these minor exceptions? News media headlines will scream “Pennsylvania legalizes marijuana!” Is someone under 18 really going to know that possession in a motor vehicle makes it a crime that will stay on his record through job and college applications? Do we really need such special exceptions?
Another extremely important effect of the bill would involve the consequences of convictions of Possession of a Small Amount of Marijuana on driver’s licenses. Under the current law, even a first conviction of Possession of a Small Amount of Marijuana carries a mandatory license suspension of 6 months — this applies even when the marijuana was not possessed in a motor vehicle. If passed into law, the bill would eliminate any driver’s license suspension for first and second convictions of Possession of a Small Amount of Marijuana. Third or subsequent convictions would continue to carry mandatory 6-month license suspension.
Stay tuned for updates on the government’s consideration of House Bill 928.In the meantime, an effective defense attorney may be able to use the fact of the impending consideration of this bill by the PA legislature as part of an argument for the the reduction of marijuana possession charges and/or penalties under the current law.