On August 1, 2016, the State College Borough voted 5-2 to adopted the proposed ordinance that reduces the criminal penalty of possession of a small amount of marijuana (30 grams or less) from a misdemeanor offense to a non-traffic summary citation. In Pennsylvania, the possession of a small amount of marijuana is a misdemeanor offense that is punishable by a fine of up to $500.00 and a sentence to imprisonment not to exceed 30 days. This is the lowest misdemeanor penalty available under Pennsylvania law. A summary offense is punishable by up to 90 days in prison and a fine of $300.00 The proposed ordinance calls for a fine of $250.00 unless the individual is under the age of 18 then the fine would be $350.00
THE BIG PROBLEM
The biggest problem with the ordinance is that does not address drug paraphernalia. Drug paraphernalia, is defined by 35 P.S. 780-113(a)(32):
The use of, or possession with intent to use, drug paraphernalia for the purpose of planting, propagating, cultivating, growing, harvesting, manufacturing, compounding, converting, producing, processing, preparing, testing, analyzing, packing, repacking, storing, containing, concealing, injecting, ingesting, inhaling or otherwise introducing into the human body a controlled substance in violation of this act.
Paper used to smoke marijuana, a pipe used to smoke marijuana or simply the bag used to carry the marijuana could all be considered as paraphernalia. Individuals charged with possession of drug paraphernalia face a fine of up to $2,500 and imprisonment up to 1 year. Possession of drug paraphernalia is a misdemeanor offense and the ordinance does not reduce the penalties for this offense within the State College Borough. Accordingly, if you are charged with Possession of Drug Paraphernalia a criminal complaint would be filed, and if the charges were bound over the case would still proceed to the Court of Common Pleas, not the lower Magisterial District Court where summary offenses are resolved.
So what does this change in the grading of the offense mean?
A reduction from a misdemeanor to a summary offense would ordinarily be perceived as a lesser offense. However, individuals must give consideration on the disposition of these offenses. In order words, when pleading guilty to an offense the criminal charge will remain on the individual’s record. Employers will undoubtedly look to a individuals criminal background when making a hiring a decision and a charge of possession of a small amount of marijuana would appear regardless of whether it is a misdemeanor or a summary offense as both are considered crimes in Pennsylvania. Certain criminal offenses are eligible for an expungement. In Pennsylvania, a summary offense is eligible for an expungement after remaining crime free for 5 years. Typically, a first offense, misdemeanor charge of possession of a small amount of marijuana would be eligible for Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition (ARD) and would be entitled to have the record expunged after 12 months and completion of the program.
Individuals should consult with an experienced attorney at The Mazza Law Group, P.C. to discuss the best disposition for their case.