With the current and growing acceptance of the use of marijuana for recreational as well as medicinal use in states across the country, Pennsylvanians should know that the criminal penalties still exist. Although possession of an illegal drug is typically considered far less onerous a crime than an act amounting to drug trafficking, sentencing rules do provide for prison time.
Possession of marijuana for individual use can be charged under that of a controlled substance, 35 Pa.C.S. 780-113(a)(16), in addition to the less onerous section (a)(31) dealing with a small amount of marijuana. The tougher, former section includes not only marijuana, but a wide range of drugs including heroin as well as prescription drugs when the accused lacks a valid prescription. The sentence can include up to a year of prison time and a fine of several thousand dollars for a first offense. But a subsequent offense can land a convicted individual in prison for up to three years and a $25,000 fine. However, the lighter crime, which deals only with a small amount of marijuana such as an ounce, can also result in incarceration of up to thirty days, as well as a fine.
Some Pennsylvania cities like Philadelphia and Pittsburg have moved towards decriminalization. Advocates of decriminalization argue that it would reduce burdens on police departments and criminal courts. It would also eliminate the correlating criminal records of individuals, improving their employability that would otherwise be impeded due to a criminal history record. However, decisions to eliminate the criminality of possession of marijuana are still far from universal within the Commonwealth and the dangers of being charged, convicted and sentenced for possession remain for the time being.