weed decriminalized in pittsburgh

Efforts to decriminalize, legalize weed in Pa. haven’t led to big drop in arrests

The legal weed industry is among the fastest-growing in the United States, according to a Marijuana Business Daily report. Veuer’s Sam Berman has the full story.

Pennsylvania’s recreational marijuana battle sits on the front line of a generational war over American cannabis laws. And as debate heats up, there seems to be some discrepancies over what you can and cannot get in trouble for in the Keystone State.

Several cities in Pennsylvania have already passed local ordinances decriminalizing marijuana — a step in the right direction if you are in favor of recent efforts to legalize recreational use.

Those cities include: Allentown, Philadelphia, Norristown, Erie, Pittsburgh, Harrisburg, York and Lancaster.

But that doesn’t mean those Pennsylvania residents can just light up on the street. If police find that eighth in your pocket, you won’t be looking at a conviction, but don’t expect to keep your stash. The penalties for possessing small amounts are typically nothing more than fines ranging from $25 to $500.

So if that’s the case, why are police still arresting hundreds of Pennsylvanians on marijuana charges?

In 2019, about 21,789 people were arrested and charged for possessing less than 30 grams of cannabis (an ounce is 28.5 grams), according to data from the Pennsylvania State Police — that’s almost an 11% decline from the 24,305 arrests made in 2018.

“Any decline is good,” said Jeffrey Riedy of the Lehigh Valley chapter of NORML, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. “But that’s still too many arrests. The numbers have remained too consistent over the years for a state that’s on it’s way to decriminalizing recreational use.”

Ah, that’s the kicker. The 2019 arrests are still greater than the numbers recorded in 2009 — when no city in Pennsylvania decriminalized possession of marijuana.

Not sure how to make sense of that? Here’s a look at what these decriminalization ordinances mean.


Yorkers debated the legalization of marijuana during Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman’s Legalization Listening Session on March 19, 2019. York Daily Record

If my town has an ordinance in place, does this mean marijuana is legal?

No. Not even a little bit.

Marijuana is still illegal in Pennsylvania, and the policy applies only to simple possession of amounts under an ounce of marijuana. As stated before, an ounce is 28.5 grams.

Amounts of more than an ounce can still result in criminal possession charges — that amount was chosen in an effort to separate the users from the dealers. Sounds pretty logical.

If my town has an ordinance in place, can I still be arrested for having it?

Absolutely. And, in accordance with state law, your marijuana will be confiscated.

If found in possession of a small amount of marijuana, local police still have the power to arrest if they feel they have probable cause. You can still get put in cuffs and booked into the county jail. That includes if you’re pulled over by Pennsylvania State Police while driving on an interstate within the city.

However, prosecutors may choose not to press charges when the case reaches them.

Also, don’t expect to get your weed back. It’s still illegal, remember?

Some arrests disregard local ordinances


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Some arrests seemingly disregarded the fact that several cities have adopted local ordinances and that many prosecutors are declining to take the cases, said Andy Hoover, spokesperson for the ACLU of Pennsylvania.

Former York Mayor Kim Bracey reformed marijuana prosecutions in August 2017, for instance, but police still arrested 55 people in the city for low-level possession through December. And another 156 marijuana possession arrests were made by the York City Police in 2018.

So while down from most previous years, the pot possession arrests underscore the complicated societal damage connected to marijuana legal reforms unfolding across the country, Hoover said.

Penalties for low-level marijuana possession inflict unjust harm to poor and minority communities, he said.

“It’s like the rest of the legal system,” Hoover said. “It disproportionately impacts people of color. Marijuana use is not very different across race. But it’s black Americans, black Pennsylvanians, more likely to get arrested.”

And sure, you might not be prosecuted in the end, Riedy said, but that doesn’t erase the arrest. On average, it costs a community more than $2,000 for each marijuana arrest made, he said.

“There’s a lack of communication with what these ordinances mean for local law enforcement,” said Judith Cassel, an attorney for Cannabis Law PA. “Has anybody sat down with law enforcement and said, ‘Don’t waste your time on this because there are more serious crimes out there we would like to redirect your energies and resources to?'”

In addition to time and money spent in court, the potential repercussions span everything from affecting future criminal prosecutions to immigration and deportation issues.

“Getting arrested for anything can be problematic for a person,” Hoover said. “It could affect unemployment, education, housing. There could be a huge ripple effect.”

Police are still arresting hundreds of Pennsylvanians on marijuana charges despite efforts to legalize pot and the fact that prosecutors are declining to take the cases.

Distribution of Marijuana

Even with Pennsylvania legalizing medical marijuana and Pittsburgh relaxing charges for minor possession, distributing marijuana in and around Pittsburgh is a different story entirely. Marijuana distribution is a serious drug charge, and convictions severely complicate a person’s life.

But being charged with marijuana distribution does not guarantee you’ll be convicted. There is a lot an experienced lawyer can do to help. At Worgul, Sarna & Ness, Criminal Defense Attorneys, LLC, our marijuana lawyers know how the current cannabis laws are interpreted and enforced in Pennsylvania, and how to secure the best possible outcome. This could mean having your charges dismissed, reduced, or more easily putting marijuana distribution charges behind you.

Charged with marijuana distribution in Pittsburgh? Call Worgul, Sarna & Ness, Criminal Defense Attorneys, LLC at (412) 281-2146 for a free consultation. We’ll expain your options and what comes next.

How Much Marijuana Get’s You Arrested?

You can be arrested for distributing even a small amount of marijuana. The severity of the penalties vary depending on the quantity that you are found to have given away, sold, gifted, or otherwise distributed.

Possession with the intent to deliver marijuana has an offense gravity score that ranges from 3 to 10 depending on the weight of marijuana in question.

Marijuana Distribution Penalties

Distributing 30 grams of marijuana or less without compensation is a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $500 and up to 30 days’ imprisonment.

Selling more than 30 grams is a felony that may result in a $15,000 fine and up to five years in prison. Offenders with prior drug convictions are subject to the maximum penalty.

Distributing 1,000 pounds or more is a felony that may lead to incarceration for up to 10 years and a maximum fine of $100,000.

Subsequent convictions can double the penalty, as well as if the marijuana was sold to a minor. Distributing cannabis within 1,000 feet of a school or within 250 feet of a playground is punishable by a prison sentence of two to four years.

How a marijuana distribution conviction affects your life

  • You will have a criminal record that negatively affects your ability to get a job, join the military, obtain certain professional licenses, or be admitted to graduate school. In addition, you may be ineligible for certain types of federal student aid.
  • Your driver’s license will be suspended for six months for a first offense, one year for a second offense, and two years for a third offense.
  • If you share custody of your children, a marijuana conviction could be damaging to your custodial agreement with some loss of rights to see your children.

Steps to Take if You Have Been Charged

The magnitude of your distribution of marijuana charge depends largely on the amount of marijuana involved. However, the first thing you should do after being charged is to contact an experienced Pittsburgh marijuana lawyer. These serious charges could impact your life forever, and having an attorney’s experience in fighting your charges and negotiating on your behalf could help you avoid prison time and thousands of dollars in fines.

How We Can Help

At Worgul, Sarna & Ness, Criminal Defense Attorneys, LLC, we have a lot of experience in marijuana distribution cases in and around Allegheny County and a successful track record of helping our clients find the best possible solution. Our first strategy will be to try and have the charges dropped or reduced. This is particularly important if we can have a felony lowered to a misdemeanor and greatly reduce the potential penalties you would suffer upon conviction.

If the prosecution decides to move forward with charges, we will review your various options, including negotiating a plea, seeking entrance into a diversion program, and fighting for an acquittal at trial.

There are a number of defenses we may be able to use in a marijuana distribution case, including:

  • Was your initial stop and/or arrest legal
  • Were you subject to an unlawful search or seizure
  • Was the evidence against you unlawfully obtained
  • Whether you were actually in possession of drugs
  • Prosecution’s lack of sufficient evidence
  • The actual weight of the drugs
Questions? Contact Us 24/7.

Your rights are at stake and you need the best defense to keep them. We will fight using the strongest defense available to get your Distribution of Marijuana charge reduced or dismissed so you can move on with your life.

Caught giving away weed to friends? A marijuana distribution charge can mean prison & thousands in fines. Call for a FREE legal consult: (412) 219-6300.