Alert: Pa House proposes massive increase in marijuana fines

Alert: Pa House proposes massive increase in marijuana fines


Contact: Chris Goldstein 267 702 3731

EVENT: Marijuana press conference: 2:00PM Tuesday June 14, East Wing Rotunda


Press Conference: Pa House Judiciary plans to raise marijuana fines 

The Pennsylvania House Judiciary Committee has scheduled a vote on a bill, HB 1422, that seeks to massively increase fines for marijuana possession.

Although HB 1422 downgrades 30 grams of marijuana or less from a misdemeanor to a summary, those convicted will live with the burden of a criminal record.

Legislators, marijuana reform advocates and potential medical marijuana patients will speak in Harrisburg about the problems with HB 1422 tomorrow. The press conference takes place in the East Wing Rotunda at 2:00PM on 6/14.

Chris Goldstein is on the Board of Directors at PhillyNORML and has extensively researched marijuana arrest statistics in Pa.

“Young people, low income residents and people of color will suffer greatly under an increase in possession fines,” said Goldstein.

The Pennsylvania Controlled Substances and Cosmetics Act describes that offenders can be “sentenced to imprisonment not exceeding thirty days, or ordered to pay a fine not exceeding five hundred dollars ($500), or both.”

HB 1422 would change “not exceeding” to “not less than” turning the old maximum fine for marijuana into the new mandatory minimum fine. And that is just for the first offense. HB1422 then proposes graduated fines: $750 for the second offense and $1,000 for for subsequent offenses.

Representative Ed Gainey (D – Pittsburgh) thinks there is a better approach. “If we’re really trying to help people move on with their lives, rather than face a lifetime of negative consequences, then this legislation is not the way to go,” said Rep. Gainey, “Fines and penalties must be reasonable and responsible.”

Rep. Gainey has sponsored legislation, HB 2076, that would have a maximum fine of $100.

Jail time or the current maximum $500 fine is rarely imposed for marijuana possession cases. Philadelphia has a code violation of $25 and Pittsburgh has a $100 ticket.

Derek Rosenzweig of PhillyNORML said, “Nobody deserves jail for marijuana, and nobody deserves to go broke or go to jail over paying a fine.”

Lolly Bentch Meyers, who worked with PA Campaign For Compassion on gaining access to medical cannabis for her daughter said, “My heart breaks at the thought of adult patients being subject to such harsh fines.”

Act 16, a medical marijuana law, was signed this year, but a working program will not be running until 2018.

Luke Shultz, 54, from Bernville, Pa lives with chronic pain and is waiting for the full implementation. He says that patients who use marijuana now to ease their suffering, “should not be exposed to draconian laws with heavy fines.”

“Indeed, no one should have to face such punishment for possessing a plant that has extensive medical utility,” said Shultz.

Pennsylvania saw 17,525 marijuana possession arrests in 2015. The majority of those arrests were performed by local police. Just 23 percent – or 4,172 arrests – were made by state police.

A report by the RAND Corporation estimated that each marijuana arrest costs $1,266. Bringing the cases to court costs an additional $1,000.Using that math, Pennsylvania spent about $39.5 million last year enforcing criminal marijuana possession laws.

Erica McBride and Les Stark of the Keystone Cannabis Coalition said that a tax and regulate model is available if revenue is the motivation.

“If the state wants to profit from cannabis, legalize it,” said McBride.

Stark added, “There is a growing majority of Pennsylvania citizens who are demanding real reform with regards to our marijuana laws.”

Patrick Nightingale, a criminal defense attorney and director of Pittsburgh NORML, has been an outspoken advocate of reducing fines below $100.

“While I am heartened that the Committee is considering legislation that would reduce the criminal penalties for minor cannabis possession, the suggestion that cannabis consumers be saddled with severe mandatory fines in excess of other summary criminal offenses is purely punitive,” said Nightingale.

“Mandatory fines only serve to strip the judiciary of its discretion and prevents a judicial officer from fashioning a sentence that is appropriate under the circumstances of the offense conduct and the offender him or herself.”

Advocates are urging House members to amend HB 1422 to avoid a costly and unnecessary consequences of increasing the fines for half of all the drug possession arrests in Pennsylvania.

Contact: Chris Goldstein (267) 702 3731

EVENT: Marijuana press conference: 2:00PM Tuesday June 14, East Wing Rotunda

2 Responses to "Alert: Pa House proposes massive increase in marijuana fines"

  1. Denny E Strausser Jr  June 13, 2016 at 10:06 pm

    I feel like what they are suggesting is throwing more money at something that is only a problem because the law makes it a problem. It is not solving anything to keep throwing more money into a fire. That’s pretty much what they are doing, if they want to pass such a ridiculous law.

    It is time for reform, not tougher laws.

    I hope Tom Wolf vetoes this bill.

  2. Stuart Kahl  June 15, 2016 at 3:36 am

    In a ever ever increasing world of raising prescription drug costs, many patients can not simply afford to purchase life saving medicine like insulin, pain medication, seizure treatment, cancer treatment and many more. How can anyone justify penalizing these people for doing what they must to get by financially? Decriminalize marijuana and tax it, this solves revenue issues, treats patients, and frees prison space for real criminals that have actually harmed others, and transitional education for inmates to assimilate back into society to become gainfully employed tax payers. This is not rocket science folks just think about the issue from cradle to grave, along with all aspects and costs. Alcohol is far worse for society yet it is a state sponsored drug killing many daily, who are the real criminals selling this drug who are directly responsible for harm to others? Not one person has ever overdosed on marijuana ever.


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