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Pittsburgh Criminal Lawyer > > Misdemeanor > Report Alleges Racial Discrimination in Pennsylvania’s Enforcement of Marijuana Laws

Report Alleges Racial Discrimination in Pennsylvania’s Enforcement of Marijuana Laws


Under Pennsylvania’s current Drug Act, possession of Marijuana, a Schedule I controlled substance, for mere personal use, is classified as an ungraded misdemeanor having a maximum penalty of one year in jail, a fine of $5,000.00, or both. Even possession of a small amount of marijuana, i.e., less than 30 grams, is classified as an ungraded misdemeanor punishable by 30 days in jail, a fine of $500.00, or both. Unfortunately, a conviction of either marijuana possession violation has historically been a life-changing event, leaving a permanent record of conviction that had a negative impact on a defendant’s future employment, educational or financial opportunities.

Pennsylvania is one of an increasing number of states to have passed legislation to decriminalize mere possession of marijuana. The recent legislation is the result of an awareness of an ever increasing majority of citizens in Pennsylvania and throughout the nation who have used marijuana or its derivative byproducts and support its legalization. The political reality is that former laws were too punitive, antiquated, and carried unrealistic life-changing consequences. Therefore, our state legislators grudgingly acknowledged that the filing criminal misdemeanor charges for simple possession of marijuana for personal use were bad public policy and a waste of limited financial resources better spent on the prosecution of more serious crimes. Nevertheless, it is still possible to be arrested and charged for marijuana possession. Although misdemeanor marijuana charges might seem a minor offense, a subsequent conviction can derail a person’s future plans in a major way.

A Minor Offense with Major Consequences

Historically, misdemeanor drug convictions result in probationary sentences up to the statutory maximum of one year for mere possession of marijuana or 30 days for possession of fewer than 30 grams. Typically, a special condition of sentencing is to abstain from drug use during the term of probation. The terms of the probation are up to the court’s discretion, accordingly, a judge can effectively micromanage every aspect of a defendant’s life while under probationary supervision. In that regard, the case of Meek Mill is instructive. The recording artist’s well-publicized, decade-long probation nightmare with an almost cartoonish, meddlesome judge is nothing short of Kafkaesque.

Even when a probationary sentence for possession of marijuana has been successfully completed, there can be collateral consequences resulting from the conviction including, but not limited to: loss of driving privilege or inability to qualify for student loans. Although the Pennsylvania legislature recently enacted laws to prevent loss of driving privilege from non-violent drug offenses, a conviction may still negatively impact future employment, educational or financial opportunities.

In the News

According to a report by The Appeal, Pennsylvania’s marijuana laws are selectively enforced in a way that discriminates against African-Americans and other minorities. As previously noted in this blog, simple possession of marijuana or a small amount of marijuana (30 grams or less) is classified as an ungraded misdemeanor having a maximum penalty of 1 year or 30 consecutive days in jail, respectively. Since late 2015, when Pennsylvania’s new marijuana laws went into effect, 600 arrests in Allegheny County have resulted in misdemeanor marijuana charges. Two-thirds of these charges were made against African-American defendants, despite the fact that only 13 percent of the residents of the county are African-American. Since rates of marijuana use are consistent among all racial and ethnic groups in the United States, the author of The Appeal report concludes that the disproportionate number of marijuana possession arrests involving African-Americans can be interpreted as evidence of a discriminatory policy that involves: a) an intentional effort to target African-Americans, and especially young men and adolescent boys, and b) a goal of causing those individuals to suffer the long-lasting collateral consequences of being convicted drug act violators.

Contact Gary E. Gerson About Misdemeanor Marijuana Charges

Do not risk being branded a criminal for the remainder of your life because you have been charged with violating the Drug Act. Hire an aggressive and skilled defense lawyer to determine whether your arrest or a subsequent search that resulted in a seizure of controlled substances was legal. Contact the Law Offices of Gary E. Gerson if you have been charged with any crime related to illegal drugs, even if it involves a misdemeanor for simple possession of marijuana.




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