Despite the passage of laws decriminalizing the recreational use of marijuana in many states, Pennsylvania has yet to enact legislation to legalize recreational marijuana usage. Marijuana possession cases are among the most commonly charged drug offenses in Pennsylvania.
Many prosecutors believe that drugs such as marijuana have a high potential for abuse and that usage of the drug may lead to abuse of more dangerous controlled substances. State and local police and prosecutors work relentlessly to charge and prosecute these types of cases.
Consequences of a Marijuana Possession Conviction
Many people who are charged with marijuana possession plead guilty to the charges without fully realizing the far-reaching consequences the conviction may have on their personal and professional life. Aside from facing significant fines, court costs and suspension of your driving privileges, a conviction for marijuana possession can prevent you from working in certain professions and limit your ability to attend the college or graduate school of your choice.
Impact on Employment and Educational Prospects
A marijuana possession conviction may unfairly raise questions about an individual’s reliability, judgment and trustworthiness in the eyes of potential employers or school admissions officers. Additionally, individuals convicted of a marijuana possession offense may be ineligible for federal student loans and financial aid and may have their ability to travel abroad restricted. It is important to have a knowledgeable drug defense attorney on your side if you are charged with marijuana possession.
I have over a decade of experience providing skilled and aggressive representation to individuals facing marijuana possession charges in Bucks County, Montgomery County and the surrounding counties. Contact me at (215) 752-5282 for a free initial consultation or fill out the confidential contact form for an immediate response. Appointments are available after business hours and on weekends.
Marijuana Possession Defined
Marijuana possession remains one of the most frequently prosecuted drug offenses in Pennsylvania. Marijuana and hashish are derivatives of cannabis and are considered a Schedule 1 controlled substance under both state and federal laws. Most misdemeanor marijuana possession cases involve the seizure of marijuana in a small baggie or in a hand pipe. Marijuana can also be possessed in the form of a “blunt” or a “joint.”
Pennsylvania defines possession of a controlled substance under 35 P.S. § 780-113(a)(16) as “knowingly or intentionally possessing a controlled substance by a person not registered under this act, or a practitioner not registered or licensed by the appropriate State board, unless the substance was obtained directly from, or pursuant to, a valid prescription order or order of a practitioner or except as otherwise authorized under this act.”
Burden of Proof in a Marijuana Possession Case
In a marijuana possession case, the prosecution is required at to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the substance possessed by the accused was illegal, the accused intended to posses the substance, the accused knew the substance was illegal and the accused possessed the substance. Prosecutors generally attempt to establish the crime of possession of marijuana under 1 of 3 legal theories:
- Actual Possession: Under this theory, the prosecutor alleges that you were in physical custody of the marijuana. This means that it was actively on your person or in your pocket. This includes purses, backpacks, and even shoes. It is possible for two or more people to share actual possession of marijuana or contraband under the legal concept of “joint possession.”
- Constructive Possession: Under this theory, the prosecutor alleges that the marijuana was found somewhere that you have access to, such as in your house, your car, or on your property. A prosecutor would need to prove that you had knowledge of the existence of the marijuana and the ability to maintain dominion or control over it.
- Joint Constructive Possession: More than one person can constructively possess marijuana. “Joint constructive possession” cases often arise in situations where drugs are found in a vehicle or in a common area of a residence. It is possible for two or more people to share constructive possession of marijuna under the legal concept of “joint possession.”
Difficulties in Proving Constructive Possession of Marijuana
It is much more difficult for a prosecutor to prove constructive possession of marijuana. A prosecutor will generally need additional evidence beyond an individual’s mere proximity to the marijuana to gain a conviction. That additional proof may include DNA evidence, fingerprint evidence or incriminating statements made by a suspect indicating ownership of the marijuana.
Marijuana Possession Defenses
I will thoroughly review the facts and circumstances of your case to determine all available defenses to the charges. Common defenses to marijuana possession charges may include challenging the legality of the initial car stop or pedestrian stop as well the legality of any subsequent search and seizure of evidence by the police. Many marijuana possession cases can be successfully defended by proving that the accused was not aware of the existence of the marijuana and was merely present near the area where the drugs were seized. Other defenses may develop though a comprehensive defense investigation of the case.
Possession of a Small Amount of Marijuana for Personal Use
Pennsylvania law restricts those who possess even a small amount of marijuana or hashish (hash) for personal use. Under 35 P.S. § 780-113(a)(31) a small amount of marijuana is defined as 30 grams or less of marijuana or 8 grams or less of hashish. The cities of Philadelphia and Pittsburgh have enacted laws making the possession of thirty grams or less of marijuana a civil offense subject to fines and not criminal prosecution.
Penalties for Possession of a Small Amount of Marijuana
- Ungraded misdemeanor
- Up to 30 days in jail
- Up to $500 fine
- 6-month driver’s license suspension
- 1-year driver’s license suspension for a 2nd offense
- 2-year driver’s license suspension for 3rd and subsequent offenses
Possession of More than 30 grams of Marijuana for Personal Use
Pennsylvania prohibits possession of more than 30 grams of marijuana for personal use under 35 P.S. § 780-113(a)(16). The threshold amount of 30 grams is equivalent to slightly over 1 ounce of marijuana.
Penalties for Possession of More Than 30 Grams of Marijuana
- Ungraded misdemeanor
- Up to 1 year in jail
- Up to $5,000 fine
- 6-month driver’s license suspension
- Ungraded misdemeanor
- Up to 3 years in jail
- Up to $25,000 fine
- 1-year driver’s license suspension for 2nd offense
- 2-year driver’s license suspension for 3rd and subsequent offense
Pre-Trial Diversion Programs for Marijuana Possession
In certain situations, the best course of action to protect the future of an individual charged with possession of marijuana is to apply for admission into a pre-trial diversion program. District Attorneys in Bucks County, Montgomery County and the surrounding counties offer these programs to 1st time offenders charged with marijuana possession.
Benefits of the Pre-Trial Diversion Programs for Marijuana Possession
The diversionary programs offered in Pennsylvania include the Bucks County District Court Diversion Program, Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition Program (ARD), and Section 17 and Section 18 under the Pennsylvania Controlled Substances, Drugs, Device and Cosmetics Act. The majority of these programs allow individuals charged with marijuana possession the opportunity to have their criminal charges dismissed and expunged after completion of certain conditions and a period of probation. I can determine which first-time offender program you may be eligible for.
Bucks County District Court Diversionary Program for Marijuana Possession
The Bucks County Magisterial District Courts offer a pre-trial diversion program to individuals charged with possession of marijuana, possession of drug paraphernalia and the possession of a controlled substance other than marijuana.
Individuals can request a referral for admission into the program from the magisterial district judge at the time of the preliminary hearing or at an earlier date. Candidates for the program must meet the following qualifications:
- The applicant must be a resident of Bucks County; and
- The District Attorney must approve the applicant’s admission; and
- The applicant must sign a waiver of the preliminary hearing; and
- The applicant must sign a waiver of their speedy trial rights; and
- The applicant must sign waivers related to treatment programs; and
- The applicant must comply with all treatment recommendations; and
- The applicant must report to court as directed; and
- The applicant must pay the costs of the program; and
- The applicant must have no prior criminal convictions if the case involves a controlled substance other than marijuana
Successful completion of the treatment program and supervisory period will result in the dismissal of the marijuana possession charges at the district court level. Individuals who complete all of the conditions of the program are eligible for expungement of the records of their case. I can determine if you are eligible for the district court diversionary program for your marijuana possession charges.
ARD for Marijuana Possession
Individuals who are not eligible for the district court diversionary drug program may be eligible for a trial-level first-time offender program. In Pennsylvania, individuals who have been charged with possession of marijuana for the first time may be eligible for admission into the ARD program, which can enable a person to avoid the serious consequences resulting from a conviction for a drug possession crime.
The ARD program was created to divert 1st time non-violent offenders from the criminal justice system. If the District Attorney approves your acceptance into the ARD program, your criminal charges will be “suspended.” During the time of the suspension of your charges, there are court-ordered conditions which must be strictly followed, including:
- Completion of drug treatment, if recommended
- Remain arrest-free during the program probationary period
- Completion of community service
- Payment of court costs
- Completion of a period of probationary supervision
Expungement of ARD Records for Marijuana Possession
Once your ARD program conditions have been completed, your original charges will be dismissed. Individuals who successfully complete the ARD program are eligible to petition the court for expungement of the records of the case. Most county courts require a 30-day waiting period from the ARD completion date before an expungement petition may be filed. If the expungement petition is granted, your arrest records and proof of participation in the ARD program would not appear on a criminal background check. I have extensive experience with the ARD admission and application process. I can determine if you are eligible for admission into the ARD program.
Section 17 Program Requirements
First-time offenders charged with marijuana possession may be eligible for a pre-trial diversionary program under 35 P.S. § 780-117 (also known as Section 17) of the Pennsylvania Controlled Substances, Drugs, Device and Cosmetic Act. Successful completion of the terms and conditions of the Section 17 probation will result in the dismissal of the marijuana possession charges by the court. Admission into the Section 17 program, also referred to as probation without verdict, requires written proof of drug dependency by a physician or psychologist.
Conditions of Section 17
An individual entering the Section 17 program must enter a guilty plea or plea of no contest to the drug offense and agree to comply with the conditions of the special probation including drug treatment if required by the court. Successful completion of the terms and conditions of theSection 17 probation will result in the dismissal of the charges by the court. Individuals who successfully complete the Section 17 program are eligible to petition the court for the expungement of the records of the case. I can determine if you qualify for the Section 17 program.
ARD versus Section 17
The Section 17 program is a more desirable alternative than the ARD program for 1st time drug marijuana possession offenders who do not qualify for a district court diversionary program. Most prosecutors will permit qualified individuals to participate in the ARD program even if they have previously been granted admission into the Section 17 program. Unfortunately, many prosecutors will not offer Section 17 admission to individuals who have previously been admitted to the ARD program.
First-time offenders charged with marijuana possession may be eligible for a pre-trial diversionary program under 35 P.S. § 118 (also known as Section 18). The applicant’s charges must be related to drug activity. Under Section 18, a court-appointed doctor trained in drug abuse and drug dependency must complete an examination of a candidate as well as a review of a candidate’s criminal record, if applicable.
Section 18 Application Process
The doctor must advise the court, district attorney and prospective Section 18 candidate whether a criminal prosecution should be withheld in favor of mental health, drug treatment or both. The district attorney must agree to an applicant’s admission into the Section 18 program even if the doctor advises against prosecution.
Successful completion of the treatment program will result in the dismissal of the criminal charges. Individuals who successfully complete the Section 18 program are eligible to petition the court for expungement of the record of the case. I can determine if you are a candidate for the Section 18 program.
Experienced and Dedicated Marijuana Possession Defense
I have extensive trial experience defending individuals charged with every type of drug offense from minor possession cases to large-scale drug trafficking operations. I am also extremely knowledgeable in state and federal search and seizure laws. I will thoroughly investigate the facts and evidence in your case to develop the most effective strategy to achieve a successful resolution of your charges.
Medical Marijuana in Pennsylvania
Pennsylvania has not yet legalized recreational marijuana usage despite passage of laws in 26 states legalizing its usage in some form. Pennsylvania has legalized the usage of medical marijuana (also known as medical cannabis) for patients suffering from any of 21 approved medical conditions.
The law requires that the medical marijuana be consumed only in pill, ointment, gel, creams, tinctures, oils, liquid or the dry leaf form for ingestion through vaporization. The smoking of dried cannabis flowers or buds is not permitted under the law. As of April 16, 2018, more than 30,000 patients had registered for Pennsylvania’s Medical Marijuana Program according to the Pennsylvania Medical Society.
Start with a Strong Defense
If you have been charged with a marijuana possession offense in Bucks County, Montgomery County or the surrounding counties, it is critical that you act quickly to protect your rights and build the strongest possible defense against the charges. Phone lines are open twenty-four hours a day at (215) 752-5282. Contact me for a free initial consultation or fill out the confidential contact form for an immediate response.