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. Consequently, marijuana possession cases are among Pennsylvania’s most commonly prosecuted drug offenses. Therefore, hiring an experienced criminal defense lawyer is crucial in mounting a successful PA marijuana possession defense.
Consequences of a Marijuana Possession Conviction
Many people charged with illegal marijuana possession plead guilty to the charges without fully realizing the far-reaching consequences the conviction may have on their personal and professional life.
A conviction for cannabis possession will result in significant fines and court costs. n addition, a marijuana possession record can prevent you from working in certain professions and limit your ability to attend the college or graduate school of your choice.
How a Marijuana Conviction can Damage Your Future
Regrettably, a marijuana possession conviction may unfairly raise questions about your judgment in the eyes of potential employers or school admissions officers.
In addition, individuals convicted of a marijuana possession offense may be ineligible for federal student loans and financial aid. Therefore, you must hire an experienced drug defense attorney.
Marijuana Possession Lawyer
I have over a decade of experience defending people facing marijuana possession charges. My practice area includes Montgomery County, Bucks County, Chester County, Delaware County, and Philadelphia County.
How Does Pennsylvania Define Marijuana Possession?
Marijuana and hashish are derivatives of cannabis and are considered Schedule 1 controlled substances under state and federal laws. Most misdemeanor marijuana possession cases occur when the police seize marijuana in a small baggie. It can also be found in a “blunt,” “joint,” or hand pipe.
Under Pennsylvania law, you cannot legally possess marijuana unless you fall within the following categories:
- You are a person registered under the Pennsylvania Drug Act
- You are a medical professional licensed under the Pennsylvania State Board
- You possess a valid Pennsylvania medical marijuana card
What is the Government’s Burden of Proof in a Marijuana Possession Case?
For a judge or jury to find you guilty in a marijuana possession case, the prosecution is required to prove beyond a reasonable doubt the following:
- The substance the police seized was analyzed by a drug lab and tested positive for marijuana
- You possessed the marijuana without a valid medical marijuana card; and
- You knew the marijuana you had was illegal; and
- You intended to possess the marijuana
How Does the Prosecutor Prove Illegal Possession in a Marijuana Case?
The district attorney will attempt to prove illegal possession of marijuana in 1 of 3 ways.
- Actual Possession: Under this legal theory, the prosecutor alleges that you physically possessed the marijuana. This means that the police discovered the drug in your hands or in your clothing. Additionally, the drugs may also be in your purse, wallet, backpack, and even shoes.
- Constructive Possession: Under this legal concept, the prosecutor claims that the marijuana was found in a place that you have access to, such as in your house, your car, or your property. To prove constructive possession, a prosecutor needs to prove that you have knowledge of the marijuana and the ability to maintain dominion or control over it.
- Joint Constructive Possession: Joint constructive possession is the final way a prosecutor can attempt to prove possession of marijuana. Two or more people can share constructive possession of marijuana under the legal concept of joint constructive possession. Under this legal premise, the prosecutor alleges that more than one person constructively possessed the marijuana. Joint constructive possession cases arise when the police find drugs in a vehicle or a common residence area.
Why is it difficult to Prove Constructive Possession of Marijuana?
Fortunately, it is much more difficult to prove constructive possession of marijuana. To get a conviction, a prosecutor will almost always need evidence beyond an individual’s proximity to the marijuana. That additional proof may be DNA evidence, fingerprint evidence, or a confession by the Defendant.
Pennsylvania Marijuana Possession Defenses
I will thoroughly review the facts and circumstances of your case to determine all available drug possession defenses. Common defenses to marijuana possession charges include challenging the lawfulness of the initial car stop or pedestrian stop.
Did the Police Conduct a Legal Search and Seizure?
Secondly, I will examine the legality of any subsequent search and seizure of evidence by the police. Furthermore, a judge will dismiss a cannabis possession case if the Defendant establishes that the police conducted an illegal stop, search, or confiscation of drug evidence.
Were You in the Wrong Place at the Wrong Time?
Many marijuana possession cases can be dismissed by proving that the accused was not aware of the existence of marijuana. I argue to a judge or jury that the accused was merely present where the marijuana was found. Other defenses may develop after a comprehensive defense investigation of the case.
Possession of a Small Amount of Marijuana for Personal Use
Pennsylvania law makes it illegal to possess even a small amount of marijuana or hashish (hash) for personal use. The legislature defines a small amount of marijuana as 30 grams or less or 8 grams or less of hashish. In addition, the cities of Philadelphia and Pittsburgh have enacted laws making the possession of 30 grams or less of marijuana a civil offense subject to the payment of a fine.
Penalties for Possession of a Small Amount of Marijuana
- Ungraded misdemeanor
- Up to 30 days in jail
- Up to a $500 fine
Possession of More than 30 grams of Marijuana for Personal Use
Pennsylvania prohibits possession of more than 30 grams of marijuana for personal use. 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
- Ungraded misdemeanor
- Up to 3 years in jail
- Up to $25,000 fine
Pre-Trial Diversion Programs for Marijuana Possession
In certain situations, the best course of action to protect the future of a person charged with possession of marijuana is to apply for admission into a pre-trial diversion program. District Attorneys in Bucks County, Montgomery County, and all surrounding Pennsylvania Counties offer first-offender programs to people charged with marijuana possession.
Why Should I Apply for a Pre-Trial Diversion Program 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 under the Pennsylvania Drug Act.
These programs allow individuals charged with marijuana possession to have their criminal charges dismissed and expunged after completing specific requirements and a probationary period. In conclusion, 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, drug paraphernalia, and a controlled substance other than marijuana. The program is referred to as District Court Drug Diversion (DCDP).
Individuals can request admission into the DCDP at the preliminary hearing. In addition, the district court judge will send the DCDP application to eligible Defendants before their preliminary hearing. Applicants for the program must meet the following qualifications:
- You must be a resident of Bucks County
- The District Attorney must approve your application
- You must sign a waiver of the preliminary hearing
- You must sign a waiver of your right to a speedy trial
- You must sign waivers related to substance abuse treatment records
- You must comply with all treatment recommendations
- You must report to court as directed
- You must pay the court costs of the program
- You must not have a criminal record
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 the conditions of the program are eligible for the expungement of the records of the case. Finally, I can determine if you qualify for the DCDP for your marijuana possession charges.
ARD for Marijuana Possession
Individuals not eligible for the district court diversionary drug program or Section 17 may still be able to avoid a criminal record. For example, people who have been charged with possession of marijuana for the first time may be eligible for admission into the ARD program.
The ARD program was created to divert 1st-time non-violent offenders from the criminal justice system. Suppose the District Attorney approves your acceptance into the ARD program. In that case, your criminal charges will be suspended while you complete probation. The conditions of probation may include:
- Completion of drug treatment
- Remain arrest-free
- Completion of community service
- Payment of court costs
- Other conditions imposed by the court or district attorney
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 judge grants the expungement petition, 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. Therefore, I can assist you with the Pennsylvania criminal record expungement procedure after you complete the ARD program.
The Section 17 Program for Marijuana Possession
First-time offenders charged by the police with marijuana possession may be eligible for a pre-trial diversion program known as Section 17. The Section 17 program is also referred to as probation without a verdict. Also, the Defendant must provide the court with proof of drug dependency written by a physician or psychologist.
What are the Conditions of Section 17?
An individual entering the Section 17 program must enter a guilty plea or no contest plea to marijuana possession. In addition, they must also agree to comply with the special probation conditions, including drug treatment, if ordered by the court.
Successful completion of the terms and conditions of the section 17 probation will result in the dismissal of the charges by the court. Individuals completing the Section 17 program can petition the court for criminal record expungement. I can determine if you qualify for the Section 17 program.
What is the Major Benefit of Section 17 for Marijuana Possession?
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. In addition, most prosecutors will permit people to participate in the ARD program even if they have previously been granted admission into the Section 17 program.
Therefore, you can preserve your eligibility for the ARD Program if you are arrested for a second criminal case in the future. Unfortunately, many prosecutors will not offer Section 17 admission to individuals who have previously been admitted to the ARD program.
I Fight to Get the Case Dismissed
I have extensive trial experience defending individuals charged with every type of drug offense, from minor possession cases to large-scale drug manufacturing and trafficking operations. In addition, I am highly knowledgeable in state and federal search and seizure laws and all marijuana possession defenses. Finally, I will examine every aspect of your case to develop the most effective defense strategy.
Medical Marijuana in Pennsylvania
Pennsylvania has not yet legalized recreational marijuana usage despite the passage of laws in 37 states legalizing its usage in some form. Many states have decriminalized the use and possession of recreational marijuana. As a result, the state legislatures have eliminated or minimized the criminal penalties for the usage and possession of cannabis. However, the possession of marijuana remains illegal under federal law.
Pennsylvania has legalized the usage of medical marijuana (also known as medical cannabis) for patients suffering from any of 23 approved medical conditions. The Pennsylvania Department of Health recently added Tourette’s syndrome and anxiety disorders to the list of medical conditions approved for legal medical marijuana.
Pennsylvania law requires that medical marijuana cardholders consume the substance only in pills, ointment, gel, creams, tinctures, oils, liquid, or the dry leaf form for vaporization. In addition, Pennsylvania lawmakers have prohibited medical marijuana patients from smoking dried cannabis flowers or buds.
As of April 16, 2018, more than 30,000 patients had registered for Pennsylvania’s Medical Marijuana Program, according to the Pennsylvania Medical Society.
Marijuana Possession Attorney
Have the police charged you with marijuana possession in Bucks County, Montgomery County, Delaware County, Chester County, or Philadelphia County? Reach out to me so we can begin developing an aggressive defense. 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.