It can be difficult to understand your situation if you have been charged with a marijuana crime in Pennsylvania. States across the country have adopted laws legalizing medical marijuana, recreational marijuana, or both; and yet, marijuana remains a Schedule I controlled substance under federal law. To make matters even more confusing, there is a difference between “legalization” and “decriminalization,” and some prosecutors’ offices have simply published “policies” regarding how they intend to handle marijuana charges – for now.

So, if you have been charged with marijuana possession, sale, distribution, or cultivation, what do you need to know? Here is an overview of the current state of the law in Pennsylvania:

1. Possessing Any Amount of Marijuana is a Crime Under Pennsylvania State Law

In Pennsylvania, possessing any amount of marijuana remains a criminal offense (unless you have a valid medical marijuana ID Card). Possessing 30 grams (just over one ounce) or less is a misdemeanor that carries a $500 fine and up to 30 days in jail, although you may be eligible for a conditional release. Possessing more than 30 grams is also a misdemeanor, but the penalties increase to a $5,000 fine and up to one year behind bars. If you have a previous conviction on your record, these penalties can increase substantially.

2. Some Local Jurisdictions (Including Philadelphia) have Passed Ordinances “Decriminalizing” Possession of Small Amounts of Marijuana

While marijuana possession is a crime under state law, various local jurisdictions throughout the state have passed ordinances that “decriminalize” the possession of small amounts of marijuana. This includes Philadelphia, where possessing 30 grams or less is treated as a civil violation (as opposed to a criminal offense) that carries a $25 fine. The same applies to smoking 30 grams or less of marijuana in a public place.

3. Pennsylvania has a Medical Marijuana Law, But Not Everyone Qualifies

Pennsylvania has a medical marijuana program. However, this does not mean that anyone can purchase marijuana and then claim that they need it for glaucoma, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), or another qualifying illness.

In order to legally purchase and use medical marijuana in Pennsylvania, you must first purchase a medical marijuana ID card through the Medical Marijuana Registry, and then you must purchase an approved marijuana product from a licensed medical marijuana dispensary. Pennsylvania’s medical marijuana law also limits the amount of marijuana that ID Cardholders can legally possess (up to a 30-day supply).

4. The Penalties for Cultivating, Selling, and Distributing Marijuana Can Be Severe

While marijuana possession is a misdemeanor offense under Pennsylvania law, cultivating, selling, and distributing marijuana can lead to penalties that are far more severe. Under Section 18-75-7508 of the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes, the penalties for these crimes include:

  • Two to nine pounds or 10 to 20 live plants – Up to a year in prison and a $5,000 fine, “or such larger amount as is sufficient to exhaust the assets utilized in and the proceeds from the illegal activity.” The prison sentence and fine are doubled for repeat offenders.
  • Ten to 49 pounds or 21 to 50 live plants – Up to three years in prison and a $15,000 fine, “or such larger amount as is sufficient to exhaust the assets utilized in and the proceeds from the illegal activity.” The prison sentence and fine are doubled for repeat offenders.
  • At least 50 pounds or 51 live plants – Up to five years in prison and a $50,000 fine, “or such larger amount as is sufficient to exhaust the assets utilized in and the proceeds from the illegal activity.”

5. Hemp-Derived CBD is Legal in Pennsylvania (But Not Cannabis-Derived CBD)

There is also a lot of confusion surrounding the legality of cannabidiol (CBD) in Pennsylvania. This is understandable because some forms of CBD are legal and others are not.

In Pennsylvania, it is legal to possess and use CBD products that are derived from hemp. The state even licenses businesses to grow hemp legally. Hemp and marijuana are very similar but have one major difference: In order for a plant to be classified as legal hemp, it must have a THC concentration of less than 0.3 percent.

However, due to a lack of regulation in the CBD market, retail purchasers (and even licensed dispensaries) can find it difficult to know for sure whether they are buying legal hemp-based CBD products. Hemp-derived products and cannabis-derived products can only be distinguished by laboratory testing for THC concentration, so the distinction creates issues for police and prosecutors in Pennsylvania as well.

6. Possession of Marijuana Paraphernalia, Driving Under the Influence of Marijuana, and Other Crimes Carry Steep Penalties, Too

In addition to possessing marijuana, it is also illegal to possess marijuana paraphernalia. Pennsylvania law defines “paraphernalia” as anything used, “for the purpose of planting, propagating, cultivating, growing, harvesting, manufacturing, compounding, converting, producing, processing, preparing, testing, analyzing, packing, repacking, storing, containing, concealing, injecting, ingesting, inhaling or otherwise introducing [marijuana] into the human body.” Penalties for possession of marijuana paraphernalia start at up to a year in jail and a $25,000 fine.

Driving under the influence of marijuana is subject to severe penalties in Pennsylvania, and the state has a “zero tolerance” policy for driving under the influence of drugs (DUID). For a first-time offender, potential penalties include (but are not limited to) up to six months of jail time, a $5,000 fine, and a one-year driver’s license suspension.

7. There are Many Potential Defenses to Marijuana Charges in Pennsylvania

If you have been charged with a marijuana crime in Pennsylvania, the good news is that you could potentially have several defenses available. To learn about potential defenses in Pennsylvania drug crime cases, you can read:

Request a Consultation with Philadelphia Defense Lawyer Brian Fishman

If you are facing a marijuana charge in Pennsylvania, it will be important for you to discuss your case with a criminal lawyer as soon as possible. To request an appointment with Philadelphia criminal defense lawyer Brian Fishman, call 267-758-2228 or contact us online now.