A bill that would decriminalize the possession of cannabis in Pennsylvania will now move forward. The bill was recently approved by the House Judiciary Committee by a vote of 14-9, and must now be approved by the House, Senate and eventually signed by Governor Tom Wolf in order to be passed into law. Governor Wolf has been supportive of medical cannabis, but not recreational, in the Keystone state.
If passed, bill HB 92B would effectively decriminalize less than 30 grams of cannabis – just over an ounce. The law as it stands now has cannabis possession for personal use listed as a third-degree misdemeanor – the consequences of which are a fine of up to $500, up to 30 days in jail, and the suspension of a driver’s license.
The sponsor of the bill is Republican State Representative Barry Jozwiak, a retired state trooper and former sheriff of Berks County, Pennsylvania.
“Under my revised bill, a first or second offense would be a summary offense carrying a maximum $300 fine, with no jail time,” Jozwiak wrote in a memorandum about the bill. “A third or subsequent offense would be a misdemeanor of the third degree, with a maximum $1000 fine and no jail. The bill will eliminate a driver’s license suspension for a first or second offense and reduce the suspension for a third offense to six months.”
Rep. Jozwiak, perhaps unknowingly, now joins a growing number of former law enforcement personnel nationwide that support some form of cannabis legalization or decriminalization. Jozwiak noted in the memorandum that if passed, his bill would help free up scarce law enforcement resources in order for officers to pursue real crimes with real victims.
“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 said in the memorandum.
In order to show just how many police resources and tax dollars are being poured into fighting the ‘war against cannabis’ in Pennsylvania, Jozwiak cited figures from the county that he represents.
“Last year in Berks County, there were 632 cases of possession of less than 30 grams of marijuana. These cases cost over $1.5 million dollars to prosecute and brought in only $126,000 in fines. In most cases, each fine was $200 or less,” Jozwiak noted.
Cannabis has been decriminalized for three or more years in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. If this bill eventually does pass, statewide cannabis law would reflect that of two of its major cities.