October 10, 2018, Pennsylvania
After months of deliberations and back and forth, Pennsylvania legislation is moving forward with the bill to decriminalize cannabis. The bill has been approved by the House Judiciary Committee this Tuesday with the vote of 14-9. For any bill, the approval of this committee matters greatly. Now the bill will be presented in the full house and Senate for the vote. After the approval of both houses, the bill will land on the governor’s desk for final ratification to become a law. Governor Pen State has already assured the advocates that he will sign the decriminalization bill if it succeeds in getting the approval of bicameral legislature of the state.
House Bill 928 calls for decriminalizing the possession of 30 grams or nearly one ounce of marijuana. According to existing laws, possession of cannabis regardless of the amount is a third-degree misdemeanor which is punishable by both fine and jail time. Authorities have the right to slap the fine of up to $500 and to temporarily suspend the driving license. Depending on the circumstantial nature of the offense, the charged individual can also be given the jail time of up to 30 days.
First and second-time offenders will get off the hook
HB 928 entails that the prescribed amount of possession will not be treated as a crime for first and second-time offenders. However, the third and subsequent offenses will be treated as a third-degree misdemeanor with no prison time and the maximum fine of $1,000. The bill will also abolish the suspension of driver’s license for the first and second offense and also calls for cutting down the suspension time for the third offense to six months.
Cannabis advocates always make this point that the decriminalization of cannabis will save law enforcement entities a considerable amount of time and resources that can be channelized for the abatement of more serious crimes. One of the former sheriffs who has served in Berks County also reiterates the same opinion.
He is of the th
He is of the thought that the downgrading of minor cannabis possession from a misdemeanor to a summary offense will free up a lot of time for police patrols. He has made this assessment after keeping in mind the time, effort and resources exhausted in dealing with minor cannabis crimes during his time of service.
The assessment of Berks County sheriff is also validated by the statistics from the last year. According to the report, Berks County dealt with 632 cases of cannabis possession of 30 grams or less in 2017, and the prosecution of these cases cost the local administration $1.5 million. In contrast, only $126,000 was brought in related penalties. In addition, polices officers had to spend a considerable share of their duty hours in courts for the proceeding of these cases.
If HB 928 becomes a law, the state’s cannabis policy will get in line with its major cities. Philadelphia was the first Pennsylvania city to decriminalize the small possessions of cannabis in 2014. Pittsburgh also did the same in the following year.