Pennsylvania Lawmakers Approve Marijuana Decriminalization Bill In Committee Vote

Pennsylvania Lawmakers Approve Marijuana Decriminalization Bill In Committee Vote

A bill to decriminalize marijuana in Pennsylvania cleared a critical hurdle on Tuesday.

The legislation, sponsored by Republican state Rep. Barry Jozwiak, would downgrade penalties for possession of under 30 grams of cannabis from a third-degree misdemeanor to a summary offense, punishable by up to a $300 fine and no jail time for first- and second-time offenders.

Though there was some uncertainty heading into Tuesday’s vote, the House Judiciary Committee approved the proposal, 14-9, after shooting down an amendment that would have barred local jurisdictions in the state from imposing their own decriminalization policies.

A number of Pennsylvania cities, including Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, have already decriminalized cannabis. But under state law, possession is currently regarded as a third-degree misdemeanor that carries penalties of up to a $500 fine, up to 30 days of jail time and a drivers license suspension.

Jozwiak, a former state trooper and sheriff, said he drew motivation for the bill from the Berks County District Attorney, noting that the “courts are clogged” with low-level cannabis cases and that some police have already adopted less punitive means of dealing with simple possession.

Ozwiak has also argued that decriminalization makes economic sense.

“This bill will reduce the workload in the court system, save millions of dollars, and allows police to file citations at the local district justice level,” he wrote in a 2017 co-sponsorship memorandum. “Officers could now stay on duty, rather than be tied up in court for hours. This is a good economic decision.”

A previous version of the bill, introduced in 2015, did not receive a committee vote. Now that it’s been reintroduced and voted out of committee, there’s a small window of time for a full floor vote before the close of the legislative session on November 30.

If the legislation is ultimately approved by the House and Senate, Gov. Tom Wolf (D) would likely sign it, as he’s voiced support for decriminalization in the past. Wolf has said he’s not ready to back full legalization in Pennsylvania, though.

Marijuana reform advocates were following the bill closely, though some contended that the legislation was too restrictive.

“Pending review of the specific language that was voted out of committee, we are optimistic that this bill will help reduce the almost 20,000 Pennsylvanians caught up in the criminal justice system over minor cannabis possession,” Patrick Nightingale, executive director of Pittsburgh NORML, told Marijuana Moment. “We will be working with our allies in the House to offer amendments that will insure cannabis consumers do not face criminal prosecution under any circumstances for possession of a small amount.”

What’s more, an amendment from the sponsor that was attached to the bill in committee on Tuesday would charge individuals who possess cannabis in a motor vehicle or on school grounds with a misdemeanor, according to advocates.

“We will work with our supporters in the House to make this a real decriminalization bill that does not escalate to a misdemeanor under any circumstances,” Nightingale said.

Chris Goldstein, a writer and cannabis reform advocate, told Marijuana Moment that it’s pivotal that reform advocates remain vigilant as the legislation moves forward. Observers were surprised that the bill advanced, he said, but there’s still a distinct possibility that further restrictive amendments such as the one voted down Tuesday will continue to rear their heads.

See the text of the amendments the committee considered below:

[scribd id=1 key=key-QbGTXIrqJntp6dSOZOrT mode=scroll]

See the original article published on Marijuana Moment below:

Pennsylvania Lawmakers Approve Marijuana Decriminalization Bill In Committee Vote

Pennsylvania Lawmakers To Vote On Marijuana Decriminalization This Week

Pennsylvania Lawmakers To Vote On Marijuana Decriminalization This Week

A bill that would decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana could advance in the Pennsylvania legislature this week.

On Tuesday, the House Judiciary Committee is scheduled to take up the bill, which was filed by Republican state Rep. Barry Jozwiak, a former state trooper and Berks County sheriff. The legislation seeks to make possession of under 30 grams of cannabis a summary offense punishable by up to a $300 fine and no jail time for first- and second-time offenders.

Though simple possession is already effectively decriminalized in several Pennsylvania jurisdictions, including Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, state law considers the offense a third-degree misdemeanor that carries penalties of up to a $500 fine, up to 30 days of jail time and a drivers license suspension.

“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,” Jozwiak wrote in a co-sponsorship memorandum in February 2017.

“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.”

A prior version of the bill was introduced in 2015, but it did not receive a committee vote. And while marijuana reform advocates are supportive of efforts to eliminate criminal punishments for cannabis offenses, some view Jozwiak’s bill as a red herring.

“Reducing the misdemeanor level offense to a non-traffic summary citation will keep thousands out of the criminal justice system and will help to alleviate the disparity in cannabis enforcement,” Patrick Nightingale, executive director of Pittsburgh NORML, told Marijuana Moment. “We cannot, however, support legislation that will nonetheless continue to expose Pennsylvanians to criminal prosecution.”

“HB 928 would escalate to a misdemeanor if the individual has two prior summary convictions for cannabis possession. An amendment would also criminalize mere possession in a motor vehicle. We believe this will continue to incentivize law enforcement to harass cannabis consumers. We also believe this is yet another attempt to control cannabis consumption through with threats of criminal prosecution which has proven to be an abysmal failure.”

Under Jozwiak’s bill, a third marijuana possession offense would be considered a third-degree misdemeanor, punishable by a $1,000 fine and no jail time. The individual’s third possession offense would lead to a drivers license suspension, but that suspension would expire after six months.

Nightingale and other advocates have their sites set on more far-reaching proposed marijuana reforms.

A majority of Pennsylvania voters (59 percent) back full marijuana legalization. But political leadership on the issue has been lacking in the Keystone State, leaving a void for reform that either party could theoretically occupy.

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf (D) is a supporter of the state’s medical cannabis program, which he signed into law, but said as recently as Monday that he’s not ready back a bill to legalize marijuana for adult-use and wants to continue to observe other legal states before enacting such a program in Pennsylvania.

Wolf does, however, favor decriminalizing marijuana. And his lieutenant governor running mate, Braddock Mayor John Fetterman, supports outright legalization.

Meanwhile, the state House and Senate is GOP-run. Though there’s modest support for basic reform efforts such as decriminalization, Pennsylvania House Speaker Mike Turzai (R) has represented a consistent roadblock on the path to legalization. He was reportedly brought to tears at a closed-door caucus meeting about a prospective medical marijuana program in 2015.

If the Jozwiak decriminalization bill makes it our of the Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, it’s unclear if or when it would be scheduled for floor action.

Opinions about legalization notwithstanding, there’s considerable support for marijuana reform across the United States. Pennsylvania is no exception, and it’s increasingly apparent that lawmakers on both side of the aisle who align themselves with moves to change cannabis laws are likely to find supportive constituents.

See the original article published on Marijuana Moment below:

Pennsylvania Lawmakers To Vote On Marijuana Decriminalization This Week

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