Staying Calm In Court

What Could Pennsylvania's Push To Legalize Medical Marijuana Mean for You?

If you suffer from lupus, fibromyalgia, epilepsy, or another condition that causes chronic pain and seizures and you reside in the Keystone State, a new treatment option may be on its way. The Pennsylvania House of Representatives is currently holding debate on Senate Bill 3, a bill that—if passed into law—could permit doctors to legally prescribe medical marijuana to patients who would glean some health benefits from it. However, with the federal government still classifying marijuana as a Schedule I controlled substance, you may find your new medicine remains a hotly debated topic. Read on to learn more about the provisions of Pennsylvania's potential new law, as well as how conflicting federal and state regulations on the possession and use of marijuana could subject you to criminal liability in certain situations. 

What will Pennsylvania's pending legislation change about the prosecution of marijuana-related crimes? 

Currently, anyone found to be in possession of even a small amount of marijuana in Pennsylvania can be charged with a misdemeanor, spending up to 30 days in jail and paying a fine of up to $500. If the marijuana seized at the time of the arrest weighs more than 30 grams (or about one ounce), the penalties for this misdemeanor possession rise to a maximum of a year in jail and a fine of up to $5,000. Depending on your prior criminal record and the amount of marijuana found at the scene of arrest, the prosecutor may elect to defer prosecution and enter into a diversion agreement with you, eventually dismissing the charges if you don't have any subsequent arrests during the term of this agreement. 

This prosecutorial discretion to waive charges is designed to keep recreational users out of jail while concentrating on higher-volume drug dealers. Those arrested and charged with the sale of at least two pounds of marijuana will be charged under the felony statutes. As a result, they may be sentenced to one year or more in prison and be assessed a fine of $5,000 or more.

However, if the Pennsylvania legislature makes medical marijuana legal for consumption when prescribed by a Pennsylvania-licensed doctor, the potential penalties on the books will no longer apply to those who are caught possessing marijuana with a valid prescription. (Attempts to purchase marijuana legally and sell it to those who do not have a prescription is an action that will still be criminalized.) 

Can you still be arrested under federal law for the possession of marijuana if you have a legal prescription?

One area in which state laws and federal regulations are in clear conflict is that of the legality of marijuana. Although a number of states have legalized medical marijuana, a few even making recreational marijuana available for sale to the public, the federal government still criminalizes the possession or sale of marijuana by an individual or company. 

These federal regulations have not been widely enforced in states that have legalized medical or recreational marijuana. Attempts at enforcement have generally been made toward dispensaries and other companies in the business of selling marijuana—so an individual merely purchasing and using the amount prescribed by your physician shouldn't draw much attention.

If you are arrested for possession of marijuana after (or if) the Pennsylvania law is put into effect, you'll want to consult an attorney who is experienced in the interplay between federal and state constitutional rights as they relate to criminal offenses. You may be able to file a lawsuit in federal district court to challenge the federal anti-marijuana laws as overreaching into an area of state authority. If this lawsuit is unsuccessful at the district level, you can even appeal to the US Supreme Court to settle this issue once and for all. Speak with a representative from a firm like Russ Jones Attorney At Law to get started.