A young man in Pennsylvania allegedly left a bag full of marijuana in the back of an Uber last December. Police say he emailed the car service a few days later asking for the bag to be returned. Instead of getting his weed back, and going on his merry way as planned, he has ended up in jail.
Malik Rasaan Mollett, 21, is being held on $150,000 bail in Westmoreland County Prison after admitting to an undercover police officer that the two pounds of marijuana they had in their possession was indeed his.
Mollett took the ride with Uber on December 29, 2018. The unidentified Uber driver contacted police January 2, 2019 after he claims to have taken his first look into the bag that Mollett was asking to have returned. When the driver realized he’d unknowingly been driving around with two pounds of marijuana in his car for three days, he decided to contact the Pennsylvania State Police.
Having been provided Mollett’s phone number by the driver, a state trooper posing as a representative of Uber, called Mollett to set up a time to return the bag. After Mollett texted the officers a photo of the bag to confirm it was his, they agreed to meet in a McDonald’s parking lot in Irwin.
Trooper Steve Limani said that when the undercover officer handed the bag of marijuana back to Mollett, he asked, “How much of it did you smoke?” The trooper assured Mollett that they had not smoked any of it, and walked away from the vehicle. At that time, the other officers moved in to make the arrest. Mollett reportedly changed his story once in custody, claiming the bag was not actually his.
Mollett now faces up to one year in jail, and may have to pay up to $5,000 in fines.
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 says he's not ready to sign recreational marijuana bill. Wants to see other states' experiences first.
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.
Should Pennsylvania fully legalize marijuana? A state lawmaker launched an online petition Tuesday asking his colleagues to do just that.
In an effort to drum up public support for a legalization bill he plans to introduce, Pennsylvania Rep. Jake Wheatley (D) called on residents to co-sign his petition in support of cannabis reform in the Keystone State.
“In the near future, I will introduce H.B. 2600 to legalize the sale of marijuana for adult recreational use in Pennsylvania, and I’m asking for your support,” Wheatley wrote. “Legalizing marijuana—which is already permitted for medical use here in the commonwealth—would yield tremendous benefits for our state.”
Help me show the politicians in Harrisburg that the time is now to free the weed and those who are being negatively impacted by our arcane laws! #FreeTheWeedhttps://t.co/XY98gR6KNI
The politician went on to list nine reasons to back legalization, including increased tax revenue, depriving drug trafficking organizations of profits and stimulating growth in the agricultural industry.
“My bill would also expunge criminal records for marijuana-related convictions that would have been considered lawful under the act. It’s time to end the 21st-century version of prohibition, stop squandering billions of dollars in revenue and balance our budget!”
“My sense is, right now, Pennsylvania’s not ready for it,” Wolf said earlier this month. “We’re working really hard to make sure that the medical marijuana program is done the right way.”
But public opinion, as revealed by polling, seems to disagree with the governor. A 2017 survey from Franklin & Marshall College found 59 percent of Pennsylvanians support legalizing adult-use cannabis, while just 31 percent oppose it.
Via Franklin & Marshall College.
That sentiment is bolstered by a report from the state’s auditor general, Eugene DePasquale, which found that Pennsylvania could see more than a half-billion dollars in additional tax revenue if the state approves recreational marijuana.
In any case, Wheatley is pushing ahead with his plan to introduce marijuana legalization in the legislature.
“There are tremendous benefits to legalizing marijuana and few downsides,” Wheatley told Fox 43. “It’s estimated that legalization would generate more than $580 million in annual tax revenue for Pennsylvania. That’s money to balance our budget, strengthen our economy, bolster our workforce and improve our schools.”
“What’s more, legalization would save taxpayers millions in enforcement costs while freeing up crime-fighting resources to combat serious, violent crime,” he said. “Prohibiting recreational use of marijuana does nothing to meaningfully reduce access to this relatively safe drug.”
UPDATE 8/21/18 2:54 p.m.: This story has been updated to clarify the number of currently registered medical marijuana patients in Pennsylvania).
See the original article published on Marijuana Moment below: