Having been in the front lines of the fight for marijuana legalization in the state of Pennsylvania, I am naturally excited by the recent events in Pittsburgh. The City Council voted in favor of decriminalization of small amounts of marijuana and hashish within city limits.
This is a big step forward in the fight, make no mistake. It will also be a relief for citizens, the court system and police. No longer will the police and the courts be tied up dealing with simple possession charges, which will translate to an estimated annual savings to the city of one million dollars per year.
For citizens, it means a fine rather than criminal charges, and the stain of having a criminal record, losing one’s drivers license (6 month suspension if convicted of possession), or even losing employment. That alone makes the victory worth celebrating.
That said, let’s not celebrate too much. Marijuana is still illegal.
Many people are understandably confused by what this all means, so here’s a quick breakdown:
Can I just go out and light up?
Absolutely not. In fact, the fines range from $25 to $100 because it’s at the discretion of the police, and they’re going to base that decision on the discretion, or lack thereof, of the offender. The more public the circumstances, the larger the fine.
What if I’m driving?
Driving under the influence of any drug, even a prescribed medication, is considered Driving Under the Influence (DUI). If a Pittsburgh police officer has reason to believe a driver is impaired, they can arrest them for a DUI, and cite them for possession. Those type of situations can be complicated, and it’s advisable to have legal representation if you are so charged.
Is the presence of marijuana still considered ‘Probable Cause” for a search?
Yes. Marijuana is still an illegal substance, possession of which is grounds for a further search of a vehicle or your person. The same applies when an officer smells marijuana.
Does Decriminalization apply to surrounding towns, etc.?
No. Decriminalization applies only within the city limits of Pittsburgh. Marijuana possession in the rest of Allegheny county is still a criminal offense.
Will there be ‘court costs’ associated with the fine?
No. If the fine is paid within 30 days, it’s just the fine. Failure to pay could lead to increased fines or even additional charges, so it’s important to pay that fine.
Hopefully this addresses your questions regarding Marijuana Decriminalization in Pittsburgh.
It’s important to remember that this is a battle we’ve won in a much larger campaign, and there is still work to be done. Pennsylvanians overwhelmingly support Medicinal Marijuana and a majority support full legalization. We must continue to bring the fight to Harrisburg until all of the citizens of Pennsylvania have access to the medicine they need and responsible, common sense legislation for adult recreational marijuana use.