Nearly half of the states in the U.S. have enacted laws that legalize medical marijuana. While the dates of passage, possession limits, and associated fees vary, 23 states and the District of Columbia have all approved legislative measures that allow for medical use of cannabis.
In September 2014, the Pennsylvania State Senate voted 43-7 pass Senate Bill 1182, an act that would provide for the medical use of cannabis in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. While the state House of Representatives has yet to take up that measure, the city of Philadelphia introduced a new fine structure the following month that largely decriminalized marijuana possession. Instead of being arrested and facing criminal charges, a person in possession of 30 grams or less of marijuana will now be issued a civil citation for $25 and anybody smoking cannabis in public will be fined $100.
Despite the many signs that the day is nearing when possession of marijuana will be legal throughout Pennsylvania, it is important to remember that “marijuana” remains a Schedule I substance under the state’s Controlled Substance, Drug, Device and Cosmetic Act. This means that a person who is convicted of possessing, cultivating, or selling or distributing this drug outside Philadelphia’s city limits can still face lengthy terms of imprisonment and very heavy fines.
Under current law, a person convicted of cannabis possession for the first time can be eligible for conditional release, in which he or she receives up to one year probation in lieu of jail time. However, a second or subsequent possession conviction can also result in double penalties. As it relates to marijuana possession, the possible consequences of a conviction in Pennsylvania depend on the amount in which the alleged offender is charged with having:
- 30 grams or less – Misdemeanor punishable by up to 30 days in jail and a $500 fine
- More than 30 grams – Misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in jail and a $5,000 fine
The sale or distribution of cannabis is also a misdemeanor punishable by up to 30 days in jail and a $500 fine if the amount involved is 30 grams or less. However, charges can be substantially elevated if a person is convicted of possession with intent to deliver (PWID) an amount more than 30 grams:
- At least two pounds, but less than 10 pounds – Felony punishable by mandatory minimum of one year in prison and $5,000 fine
- At least 10 pounds, but less than 50 pounds – Felony punishable by mandatory minimum of three years in prison and $25,000 fine
- At least 50 pounds, but less than 1,000 pounds – Felony punishable by up to five years in prison and $25,000 fine
- 1,000 pounds or more – Felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison and $100,000 fine
Additionally, a person convicted of selling or distributing marijuana within 1,000 feet of a school or within 250 feet of recreational playground can face lengthier prison sentences, and penalties may be doubled if the alleged offender has a previous drug conviction or the most recent conviction involved selling to a minor.