By a margin of 43-7 on Sept. 23, 2014, the Pennsylvania Senate passed SB 1182, a bill that would decriminalize about a dozen instances of medical marijuana possession in the Keystone state.
“The Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Act,” introduced by Sen. Mike Folmer of Lebanon, PA, outlines the specific conditions within which medical marijuana can legally be purchased and provides legislative oversight for allowable cultivation, processing and dispensing of the plant to people with qualifying conditions such as chronic epilepsy.
Although Senate passage of the bill is a significant step toward decriminalization, the measure must still be approved by the state House of Representatives and signed into law by the governor.
Under existing Pennsylvania law, marijuana in any form is considered a Schedule I narcotic. This means that possession for personal use is classified as a misdemeanor and carries a penalty of up to 30 days in jail. Possession with intent to deliver or manufacture marijuana is a felony under PA law and a conviction can carry up to 5 years in prison.
Thankfully, in certain circumstances simple possession charges can be expunged from a person’s criminal record. However, even if SB 1182 ultimately passes into law, previous or pre-existing charges would not automatically be erased from a person’s record. As it stands, even if possession is predicated on a legitimate and qualifying medical need, a “medical necessity” defense cannot be asserted in Pennsylvania courts.
Decriminalization would be a welcome change to the legislative process, especially considering the harsh collateral damage a possession conviction can do to a person’s life. Drug possession convictions often result in a suspended license, diminished employability and ineligibility for student loans or financial aid.
The good news is that if medical marijuana is decriminalized in Pennsylvania, those with pre-existing marijuana convictions may find the PA Board of Pardons more sympathetic to their petition.
If you have been convicted of a marijuana-related crime in Pennsylvania, the Walmer Law Office may be able to help clear your record.