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Though laws surrounding the use, possession and distribution of marijuana continue to evolve around the United States and often vary significantly from state to state, the possession of marijuana for personal use remains illegal under Pennsylvania law.
Nowhere is this more true than here in State College, Pennsylvania, which, because of the large number of young college students, is often viewed by local police and prosecutors as a hotbed of marijuana use. Unlike some jurisdictions where attempts are being made to decriminalize the possession of marijuana for personal use — even within the commonwealth of Pennsylvania — the possession of a small amount of marijuana is not tolerated by law enforcement in Centre County.
Parents and students unaccustomed to local policies surrounding marijuana possession are often taken aback by the seemingly intolerant approach employed by local law enforcement. Unfortunately, as we often tell our clients, if you have been charged in connection with the possession of a small amount of marijuana for personal use, now is not the time for political activism. We have heard far too many Pennsylvania judges address the indignation of individuals charged with possessing small amounts of marijuana by saying “if you don’t like it, move to Colorado.”
Under the Pennsylvania Controlled Substances, Drug, Device and Cosmetic Act, a “small amount of marijuana” is 30 grams of marijuana or 8 grams of hashish or less. 35 Pa. Stat. Ann. § 780-113(a)(31). The offense is considered an “ungraded” misdemeanor that carries a penalty of up to 30 days in prison or a fine not to exceed $500 or both. 35 Pa. Stat. Ann. § 780-113(g).
While the Pennsylvania legislature has created a separate offense for the possession of a small amount of marijuana, which carries lesser penalties than Simple Possession of a Controlled Substance or Possession With the Intent to Distribute marijuana, it is important to note that the marijuana possessed must be for personal use. In other words, an individual may still be charged and convicted of the far more serious crime of distribution even if the amount of marijuana possessed is under 30 grams.
For example, in In re R.N., 951 A.2d 363 (Pa. Super. Ct. 2008), a case decided by the Pennsylvania Superior Court, the court found that the evidence was sufficient to sustain a conviction for Possession with the Intent to Distribute marijuana where a juvenile defendant was only in possession of 5.6 grams of marijuana, but the marijuana was individually wrapped in separate packages, the defendant did not possess any paraphernalia for using marijuana, and he was also in possession of a firearm. The appeals court upheld the jury’s finding that the totality of the evidence suggested the defendant intended to distribute the 5.6 grams of marijuana in his possession.
Here at Rehmeyer & Allatt, we will explore all options and defenses available to a client including investigating motions to suppress evidence and taking steps to ensure that the individual has not been overcharged, i.e. with Simple Possession where the facts indicate the appropriate charge should be possession of a small amount of marijuana for personal use. Where the facts and circumstances preclude any meaningful litigation of the case, in most cases we will be able to negotiate a plea agreement for accelerated rehabilitative disposition, 30 days of probation or simply a fine.
If you or a loved one has been charged with the possession of a small amount of marijuana for personal use, we urge you to contact the State College criminal defense attorneys at Rehmeyer & Allatt for a free consultation. Email us or call 814-343-9860.