Information on Marijuana Decriminalization in Philadelphia
This article will explain the potential consequences for possession of marijuana in Philadelphia and the surrounding counties. If you have been arrested for a drug charge or possession of a marijuana, you likely have a number of questions which may not be addressed in this article. Call us at 267-225-2545 for a free criminal defense strategy session and the answers to your questions about marijuana charges in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.
I heard that marijuana is legal in Philadelphia. Can the police arrest me for possessing marijuana?
Although both Pennsylvania and New Jersey have begun to enact medical marijuana laws, the possession of marijuana for personal use anywhere in Pennsylvania and New Jersey remains a crime. However, the City of Philadelphia has taken numerous steps to effectively decriminalize marijuana over the last few years. These steps have significantly reduced the penalties and consequences of being caught with personal use quantities of marijuana for most people. However, possession of marijuana is still on the books as a crime. Unless and until the state legislature decriminalizes marijuana, it is still possible to be arrested for marijuana possession, and it is still a felony under state and federal law to sell marijuana. Likewise, possession of even a small amount of marijuana remains a crime under federal law, and with the change in Presidential administrations, federal authorities have recently signaled that they intend to continue prosecuting people for marijuana-related crimes.
Philadelphia's Small Amount of Marijuana Program
The first step that the city took to decriminalize marijuana was the creation of the Small Amount of Marijuana ("SAM") program. Under the terms of this program, the District Attorney would ask defendants caught with under 30 grams of marijuana to pay a fine and complete a number of hours of community service. If the defendant successfully completed the program, then the District Attorney would move to dismiss the charges, and the charges could be expunged. If the defendant failed to pay the fine or complete the community service, then the defendant could still proceed with a motion to suppress and/or trial in the Philadelphia Municipal Court. In many cases, our attorneys have been able to negotiate for our clients who are facing marijuana charges to participate in the program and avoid a criminal record. Although conviction for possession of a small amount of marijuana does not typically carry jail time, it is punishable by up to thirty day in jail as well as fines and court costs. Additionally, a conviction for possession of a small amount of marijuana will lead to an automatic six month driver's license suspension through PennDOT even where the marijuana possession did not occur in an automobile.
Marijuana Decriminalization - Civil Citations for Marijuana Possession
More recently, city council passed a local ordinance allowing police to issue a civil citation to defendants instead of arresting them and charging them with Possession of a Small Amount of Marijuana. The ordinance calls for the defendant to pay a $25 fine for possession of less than 30 grams of marijuana and a $100 fine if the defendant was caught by police smoking marijuana in public. In most cases, the Philadelphia police will issue the civil citation (or simply throw the marijuana out) instead of arresting someone with a small amount of marijuana, and therefore the citation will not lead to the person having a criminal record or an arrest for drugs showing up on a criminal background check. The ordinance does not apply to the sale of marijuana or to possession of more than 30 grams. It is also still a felony under state law to grow even one marijuana plant. Further, possession of more than 30 grams of marijuana even for personal use may still be charged as Knowing and Intentional Possession of a Controlled Substance, which is an ungraded misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in jail for a first offense.
The recent ordinance has led to a dramatic decrease in the number of criminal marijuana prosecutions in Philadelphia. However, it is important to remember that marijuana is still illegal. It is still a felony called Possession with the Intent to Deliver to sell marijuana, and the police have the discretion to arrest someone even for possessing a small amount of marijuana instead of issuing the ticket. In most cases, they do not do so, but they are most likely to make an actual arrest for possession when narcotics officers observe alleged drug sales. If the police believe they observed a person selling marijuana, then the police will often arrest the buyers and charge them criminally instead of issuing the ticket. This serves to document the fact that the buyers actually existed, which will often be used to bolster the prosecution's case in the Possession with the Intent to Deliver trial against the seller.
Marijuana Is Still Illegal in Pennsylvania
One of the most important things to remember is that because marijuana possession is still a crime under state and federal law, police will often try to claim that they smelled the odor of marijuana or saw marijuana in plain view in order to justify the subsequent search of a defendant or defendant's vehicle. If the court believes that officers smelled marijuana, then the court may deny a motion to suppress if the odor of marijuana led the police to search for contraband. Finally, it is also a crime to drive while under the influence of marijuana or with virtually any detectable level of marijuana metabolite in your blood. Because marijuana metabolites may remain in the bloodstream for thirty days or more, a defendant who used marijuana may be convicted of DUI even if they were not even remotely high at the time of the arrest.
Our Philadelphia Drug Charges Lawyers Can Help
Despite these positive steps towards marijuana decriminalization, Philadelphia police and law enforcement officers in the suburban counties continue to charge many people both with possessing and selling marijuana. The federal government also continues to aggressively pursue drug traffickers even in cases involving marijuana. If you are facing any type of drug or marijuana possession charge in Pennsylvania or New Jersey, call 267-225-2545 for a free criminal defense strategy session with one of our defense attorneys. There are often defenses to these charges either through the use of pre-trial motions to suppress or at trial. We understand the fear and uncertainty you are likely feeling following an arrest, and we will immediately get to work answering your questions and building a defense to get results for you.