Possessing Personal Use Marijuana


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In order to properly allocate precious law enforcement resources, marijuana possession of less than 30 grams has been decriminalized within the city limits of Philadelphia and some other areas of Pennsylvania, such as Pittsburgh. Furthermore, throughout the state, possessing marijuana for medical purposes is now legal for patients with a prescription. But in other contexts, the possession of marijuana for personal recreational use is still a crime.

For example, if you have marijuana in a Philadelphia suburb outside of the city limits, you may be charged with a misdemeanor involving a permanent entry on your criminal record, a possible jail sentence, and fines reaching into the hundreds of dollars. Essentially, just because possession is decriminalized doesn’t mean that it is legal. It just means that instead of criminal charges, you will just need to pay a civil fine–like a parking ticket.

If you plan on using marijuana recreationally in Pennsylvania, it’s important that you understand how decriminalization works. And if you are charged with misdemeanor possession, you will need to talk to a Pennsylvania marijuana possession attorney who can help bring your criminal case to a positive resolution. As an experienced criminal defense lawyer and member of the Medical Marijuana Committee of the Philadelphia Bar Association, Michael Fienman is at the forefront of cannabis law in Philadelphia and across Pennsylvania. If you have questions about medical marijuana or have been charged with a marijuana-related crime, contact attorney Fienman at (215) 839-9529 or complete our online form.

What Does Philadelphia’s Decriminalization of Marijuana Entail?

If a police officer catches you with less than 30 grams (a little over an ounce) of marijuana within the city limits of Philadelphia, he or she may cite you for a civil offense. The fine is $25 unless you were smoking in public, which increases the fine to $100. You may also opt out of paying the fine if you perform 9 hours of community service.

Even within the city limits of Philadelphia, possession of marijuana may have more collateral consequences than you expect for a civil fine. It may be considered a probation violation or it may influence a child custody case. Additionally, if you get pulled over while smoking marijuana in Philadelphia, it is almost certain that you will get charged with DUI.

When you get caught with more than 30 grams of marijuana in Philadelphia, or if there is evidence that you intended to sell the marijuana, you can and will get charged with a criminal offense–just like in the rest of the Commonwealth.

What Are the Pennsylvania Laws Against Marijuana Possession?

If you’re outside the city limits of Philadelphia, you can assume that you will be charged under Pennsylvania criminal statutes if you are caught with marijuana for personal use. If convicted, you may face the following penalties:

  • Possessing 30 grams or less of marijuana is a misdemeanor that can result in 30 days in jail and/or a $500 fine
  • For more than 30 grams, the offense is still a misdemeanor but the possible jail sentence increases to 1 year and the fines get raised to $5,000
  • You will lose your driver’s license for six months
  • Contraband substances like marijuana are illegal to possess so the police will seize your stash during their search
  • Probation is possible for your first offense
  • Your marijuana possession conviction will be visible on your permanent criminal record, so your education and employment opportunities may be restricted
  • If you’re an immigrant, you may face deportation proceedings

You can learn more about Marijuana charges in The Pennsylvania Code under Title 35 Chapter 6. Read the code here.

What To Do If You Have Been Charged

If you are found with drugs in your possession, it is important that you do not make any statements to the arresting officer about the drugs. Do not tell the officer who you believe the drug belongs to. Few people are able to talk themselves out of an arrest. And in the majority of cases, the police will find ways of twisting your words against you to make you look guilty.

You have the rights to remain silent and to have a lawyer, so you should use them. As with most criminal charges, you should not talk to the police or prosecutors without your Philadelphia marijuana possession lawyer by your side. What you say can be taken out of context and used against you. If the police question you, tell them that you want a lawyer and politely refuse to answer their questions.

How a Philadelphia Marijuana Possession Lawyer Can Help

Your attorney will examine the alleged facts to first determine whether any of the prosecutor’s evidence may be suppressed from the case. For example:

  • If you were stopped in your car, your defense attorney will find out if the search was legally performed.
  • If the police searched your home, they must have been acting on the authority of a warrant or in reaction to emergency circumstances.

If the police didn’t have the authority to search your person, vehicle, or home, then the marijuana they found cannot be used as evidence of your criminal wrongdoing. Your lawyer can file a motion to suppress, which if successful will result in the illegally obtained evidence being removed from your case. Often times, this the most effective defense to marijuana charges because it allows you to win your case even before the trial starts.

At trial, the prosecutor’s duty is to prove every element of the case against you beyond a reasonable doubt. This means that if your lawyer can demonstrate that there is a reasonable chance that any of the following are true, you may be acquitted:

  • The marijuana belonged to someone else
  • You did not know that you possessed the marijuana
  • The samples sent to the lab for testing were mishandled, so they are not proper evidence that the substance you possess was actually marijuana

It is important to note that most possession cases get settled before going to trial. The prosecutor may offer you reduced charges or the possibility or probation if you agree to plead guilty. This may be a good option in some cases, but you should remember that a guilty plea for marijuana possession will stay on your criminal record for life.

For these reasons, don’t plead guilty until a skilled Philadelphia criminal defense lawyer has been able to determine whether it’s possible to fight your charges. At Fienman Defense, we stand ready to defend your rights as you face the criminal justice system. If you want to learn about what defenses may be available in your marijuana possession case, call us today at (215) 839-9529 for a free and confidential consultation of your case.

Questions? Contact us today.

If at all possible, Fienman Defense will try to get the charges against you dismissed. And if your case goes to court, Fienman Defense will fight to win an acquittal.