Marijuana (Cannabis) Law Update – Will Pennsylvania really legalize a “gateway” drug for recreational purposes?
Our law firm represents individuals charged with crimes in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Many of these cases involve the possession and or the possession with the intent to deliver an illegal drug, narcotic or a controlled dangerous substance (CDS). These are serious crimes which often subject accused persons to county and state prison sentences.
Recently, Pennsylvania and New Jersey have taken steps to decriminalize marijuana, but it remains a criminal offense in the Commonwealth. While marijuana is legal in the Garden State, there is still a high degree of regulation associated with it. While possession is legal in New Jersey, possession with the intent to distribute (or deliver) is still a felony crime in New Jersey. Critics claim that marijuana is a gateway drug that leads to dependency, addiction and the desire to try other more potent drugs once the initial high or novelty has worn off the user. Many persons enter the criminal justice system because of drug addiction. Addiction often leads to serious crimes including violent felonies which subject persons to log state prison terms
What changes could be coming in Pennsylvania law regarding marijuana?
In Pennsylvania, members of the legislature and the newly elected governor are taking steps to expand the medical marijuana program and even considering full legalization. New York and New Jersey allow adults twenty-one (21) and older to purchase marijuana without a medical marijuana card. The current Governor, Josh Shapiro, did however, campaign on the legalization of cannabis for adults in the Commonwealth.
Currently, there is a Democratic majority in the Pennsylvania legislator and more Democrats support legalization then Republicans. Right now, unlike New Jersey, only those in the Commonwealth who possess a medical marijuana card may purchase this scheduled one controlled substance.
Currently, in Pennsylvania doctors must complete a four (4) hour training course to approve patients for medical marijuana. Patients qualify only if they have one (1) of the twenty-three (23) approved conditions.
There is a proposal that would allow any doctor who is authorized to prescribe controlled substances (narcotics) to determine whether a patient can use cannabis. There is also a proposal to eliminate the need to renew a medical marijuana card which currently costs $50 per year.
In addition, there is a proposal to allow patients to buy medical cannabis in edible forms (chocolates, gummies, baked goods, drinks, tablets, hard candies, dissolvables and lozenges). There is even a proposal to allow users to grow a limited number of cannabis plants in their home. The goal of eliminating renewal costs and home growing is to eliminate the financial hardship of many patients who receive medical cannabis.
What States have legalized Marijuana?
Twenty-one (21) states (including New Jersey) have legalized adult use of medical cannabis and ten (10) have decriminalized simply possession in some ways. Most decriminalization states impose civil fines which avoid the consequences of a criminal record.
In Pennsylvania, however, a person can still be prosecuted for the illegal possession of even a small amount of marijuana. A person who possesses marijuana is guilty of an ungraded misdemeanor with a maximum punishment of one (1) year of State incarceration and a $2,500.00 fine.
While cities like Philadelphia and Pittsburg and other municipalities have taken steps to decriminalize marijuana, state law still makes a criminal offense in the Commonwealth. There are proposals to reduce the legal possession of a small amount of marijuana to a summary offense and eliminate a potential jail sentence.
Drugged Driving & Marijuana (DUI/DWI)
Finally, Pennsylvania is one of twelve (12) states that has zero tolerance for a person driving with any amount of marijuana or controlled substance in their body. In Pennsylvania, unlike some states, a person who drives with any amount of marijuana or metabolite in their blood is potentially guilty of the highest tier DUI in Pennsylvania. New Jersey (DWI) has very similar legislation and the person convicted of such a crime faces a potential driver’s license suspension, jail time, insurance surcharge and other requirements.
Currently, the way the vehicle law is written, a person is guilty of a crime such as DUI/DWI even if there was no evidence a person is impaired at the time of their arrest. A new proposal would require that the prosecution prove beyond a reasonable doubt actual impairment as a basis for a DUI conviction.
Please continue to read our criminal defense lawyer blog for more updates on your rights in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.
Contact Our Criminal Defense Lawyers in PA & NJ
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