|Posted:||January 12, 2021 02:45 PM|
|From:||Representative Barry J. Jozwiak|
|To:||All House members|
|I plan to reintroduce former House Bill 132, which would reduce the penalties for most cases of possession of small amounts of marijuana (under 30 grams) from a misdemeanor to a summary offense. This legislation includes a reduction to the level of the maximum fine and the elimination of a driver’s license suspension for a first or second offense. Downgrading this offense from a misdemeanor to a summary offense would have a positive effect on local law enforcement efforts, allowing police and prosecutors to focus their time and resources on more serious offenses.
Currently the possession of a small amount of marijuana is an ungraded misdemeanor, which is treated as a misdemeanor of the third degree, with a maximum punishment of 30 days in jail and a $500 fine. The law also requires PennDOT to suspend the license of a person convicted of a violation. As a misdemeanor offense, the charge must be prosecuted by the local district attorney, in the local Court of Common Pleas. This involves higher costs not just for prosecutors, but also for the court and for the defendant himself.
Under my revised bill, a first or second offense would be a summary offense carrying a maximum $300 fine, with no jail time. A third or subsequent offense would be a misdemeanor of the third degree, with a maximum $1000 fine and no jail time. The bill will eliminate a driver’s license suspension for a first or second offense and reduce the suspension for a third offense to six months.
If a first or second offense were graded as summary offenses, they could be treated by issuing citations. Police officers would appear in local magisterial district courts to prosecute the cases, or the defendant could just simply pay the fine, resulting in cost savings all around. A third offense would still be graded as a misdemeanor offense.
In Berks County in 2018, there were 632 cases of possession of less than 30 grams of marijuana. These cases cost over $1.5 million dollars to prosecute and brought in only $126,000 in fines. In most cases, each fine was $200 or less. I’m sure this is the same in other counties statewide. This bill will reduce the workload in the court system, save millions of dollars, and allow police to file citations at the local district justice level. Officers could now stay on duty, rather than be tied up in court for hours. This is a good economic decision.
As a former law enforcement officer, I strongly believe in cracking down on drug dealers and those who prey on the young or weak with drugs. But those defendants are addressed elsewhere in the Controlled Substances Act. For individuals who merely possess small amounts of marijuana, I believe this adjusted grading makes sense.
Please join me in sponsoring this legislation. If you have any questions, please contact Michelle Moore at 717-772-9940 or via email at email@example.com.
Introduced as HB857