PA drug charges attorney discusses new Pittsburgh marijuana laws
Each year in Pittsburgh, there are nearly one thousand people who face criminal charges for possessing small amounts of marijuana. Studies show that approximately 70% of those marijuana-related charges last year were aimed African-Americans. This information comes regardless of the fact that African Americans make up only 26% of the population and whites and blacks use marijuana at a similar rate. Essentially, the study shows that laws are disproportionately aimed at African Americans. As a criminal defense attorney here in Pittsburgh, I can tell you that criminal records, even when they are misdemeanors that get reduced to summary offenses, may have lasting collateral consequences. Those who convicted can their jobs, future job opportunities, professional licenses, and access to state-funded programs. The Pittsburgh City Council has recently approved a marijuana decriminalization bill and the mayor has signed it into law. This represents a small but important step toward taking a rational approach to regulating the possession, sale, and use of marijuana. Current marijuana laws come by way of several historical factors that are scientifically unrelated to the health impacts of the drug. In the early part of the 20th century, prohibition influenced the first marijuana restriction laws. At about the same time, the use of marijuana became associated with the influx of Mexican immigration after the Mexican revolution. This was also the time that the black urban population use of marijuana rose to prominence and was closely associated with jazz culture. It was arguably the influence of fear-motivated and contemporary Prohibitionist rhetoric associated with the drug that led to inaccurate claims about the use of marijuana. The culmination of the rhetoric can still be seen in the anti-pot propaganda video, "Reefer Madness." What you may not know is that efforts to decriminalize marijuana in our country are not far off the new Pittsburgh legislation. In 1939, New York City’s mayor commissioned the New York Academy of Medicine (NYAM) to figure out whether or not harsh marijuana laws were justified. The academy reported that the laws were not justified and recommended denouncing marijuana policies. Here in PA, in 1972, a federal commission chaired by former Republican Governor Shafer, arrived at the same conclusion. After examining the risks and public health effects of using marijuana, it was recommended that marijuana be decriminalized and instead controlled like alcohol and tobacco. In regards to this new law, it’s important to understand that our new ordinance will not fully decriminalize marijuana possession in the city. Until changes at the state and federal levels, cops will still be able to use their discretion to charge possessors of marijuana with a misdemeanor. Pittsburgh’s new law will give police the option to charge people with small amounts of marijuana as a civil violation. This will carry a fine of $25 and no permanent criminal record. Obviously, marijuana possession and sale is still illegal, but people will not be facing a criminal record or jail time for having a small amount for personal use. If the new legislation is correctly applied, it is estimated that Pittsburgh could save around $1 million each year due to decriminalization. Because police will be given discretion about how to enforce the law, it’s important that the D.A., chief of police, and troopers show solidarity with each other about the new laws. Thus far, it is believed that everyone is on board with the new policies. If you have been arrested for possessing marijuana, this new bill could change your future for the better. It is still unclear about how those who have been arrested recently, prior to the bill’s passing, will be treated, so an experienced Pittsburgh drug charges attorney may be necessary to ensure you keep the charge off of your permanent record. Call The Law Offices of Gary Gerson today for a free preliminary consultation at 412-219-6875.