Drivers are often aware of the speed limit on the highway, but not every person may understand that there is also a speed minimum. Law enforcement has the right to pull a vehicle over for going both above and below the posted speed limit.
An Oregon man driving through Pennsylvania learned this lesson the hard way last week when he was pulled over by a state trooper for going 30 miles per hour under the posted speed limit. Mark Joseph Doyle, 63, of Oregon was arrested while transporting 510 pounds of vacuum-sealed dried marijuana flower on the Pennsylvania Turnpike through Mount Pleasant Township.
The arresting officer became suspicious when he witnessed the box truck driving at the “unreasonably slow speed” of only 40 miles per hour on the Pennsylvania Turnpike where the speed limit is 70 miles per hour. Mark Joseph Doyle, 63, was driving the box truck when it was pulled over by Trooper Marmol.
“A probable cause search was conducted of the box truck,” wrote Trooper Ryan Marmol. “A small amount of suspected marijuana was located in the cab of the box truck and approximately 510 pounds of suspected marijuana was located in a crate that was inside of the cargo area of the box truck. All evidence was seized and entered into evidence.”
Doyle is being charged with a felony count of “manufacture, delivery, or possession with intent to manufacture or deliver and misdemeanor possession,” according to the Pennsylvania State Police. He is being held at the Westmorland County Jail without bail.
Doyle isn’t the only person to be apprehended while transporting large quantities of illegal drugs in this area. This part of the Pennsylvania Turnpike, near the New Stanton Interchange, is known for big drug busts, according to state police officers. “We have a hub when it comes to the New Stanton exchange and that New Stanton exchange off the Turnpike has a multitude of major arteries that come in and out,” State Trooper Stephen Limani said. “It just doesn’t stop, and it is a constant battle.”
In 2018, the first full year of operations for the retail medical marijuana program in Pennsylvania, patients spent more than $130 million on the herbal medication.
“The first year that the state’s medical marijuana program has been operational tells us that this program is working to help Pennsylvanians in need of this medication,” Governor Wolf said. “Patients are realizing the benefits and there has been steady, positive progress that I am pleased to report.”
Gov. Wolf signed the bill legalizing medical marijuana into law on April 17, 2016, and now the first full year has been proclaimed a great success with more than 116,000 patients being registered. Of the card-holding patients, more than 83,000 purchased products from a dispensary, and more than 600,000 transactions were collectively reported by the licensed dispensaries. Medical marijuana sales reported for the year totaled more than $132 million, and the state also collected more than $2 million in taxes from licensed growers and processors. Pennsylvania state lawmakers like Sen. Jay Costa shared in the excitement of a successful first year. “In its first year of operation, Pennsylvania’s medical marijuana program helped 83,000 folks access medication, dispensed from nearly 600,000 times at approved dispensaries across the state,” Sen. Costa wrote on Twitter. “Wow! Clearly, this was a serious need in the Commonwealth.”
Inspired by the successful first full year, officials plan to expand the program by licensing more physicians, producers and retail dispensaries. “Our goal for the next year and beyond is to increase the number of grower/processors and dispensaries operating, to register even more physicians and to continue the growth of our scientific, medically based program,” Department of Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine said in a statement.
To apply for a medical marijuana card in Pennsylvania, patients suffering from one of the qualifying conditions must first receive a recommendation from a state-licensed physician. Conditions that qualify for the medical marijuana program in Pennsylvania include:
Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS)
Cancer, including remission therapy
Damage to the nervous tissue of the central nervous system (brain-spinal cord)
Dyskinetic and spastic movement disorders
HIV / AIDS
Inflammatory bowel disease
Opioid use disorder
Post-traumatic stress disorder
Severe chronic or intractable pain of neuropathic origin or severe chronic or intractable pain
Sickle cell anemia
Currently, there are only 45 retail locations certified to sell medical marijuana in Pennsylvania, but the state plans to issue 23 additional permits in the coming months. Nearly 500 more physicians are also expected to become certified to recommend medical cannabis.
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 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.
Bill's introducer, GOP's Jozwiak, says the idea was brought to him by Berks County DA. "Courts are clogged" with low-level pot arrests. https://t.co/oG4Ca5FiLk
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.
I support decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana. Shouldn’t focus on incarcerating people for possession of small amounts of marijuana. https://t.co/YeqO8Ir3z5
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:
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.