Medical Marijuana in PA

By a margin of 43-7 on Monday, the Pennsylvania Senate passed SB 1182, a bill that would decriminalize about a dozen instances of medical marijuana possession in the Keystone state.

“The Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Act,” introduced by Sen. Mike Folmer of Lebanon, PA, outlines the specific conditions within which medical marijuana can legally be purchased and provides legislative oversight for allowable cultivation, processing and dispensing of the plant to people with qualifying conditions such as chronic epilepsy.

Although Senate passage of the bill is a significant step toward decriminalization, the measure must still be approved by the state House of Representatives and signed into law by the governor.

Under existing Pennsylvania law, marijuana in any form is considered a Schedule I narcotic. This means that possession for personal use is classified as a misdemeanor and carries a penalty of up to 30 days in jail. Possession with intent to deliver or manufacture marijuana is a felony under PA law and a conviction can carry up to 5 years in prison.

Thankfully, in certain circumstances simple possession charges can be expunged from a person’s criminal record. However, even if SB 1182 ultimately passes into law, previous or pre-existing charges would not automatically be erased from a person’s record. As it stands, even if possession is predicated on a legitimate and qualifying medical need, a “medical necessity” defense cannot be asserted in Pennsylvania courts.

Decriminalization would be a welcome change to the legislative process, especially considering the harsh collateral damage a possession conviction can do to a person’s life. Drug possession convictions often result in a suspended license, diminished employability and ineligibility for student loans or financial aid.

The good news is that if medical marijuana is decriminalized in Pennsylvania, those with pre-existing marijuana convictions may find the PA Board of Pardons more sympathetic to their petition.

If you have been convicted of a marijuana-related crime in Pennsylvania, contact Record Eraser today for help in clearing your record.

Differences between expungements and pardonsAlthough the terms are frequently paired together, expungements and pardons are similar only in that they each seek to clear criminal charges and convictions from a person’s criminal history file.

  • Scope. Generally speaking, pardons can only be granted by the Governor (after a recommendation by the state Board of Pardons) and can apply either to individual summary, misdemeanor or felony offenses or an entire criminal history. Expungements, on the other hand, are limited in scope in that they are granted by the courts, but only apply to non-convictions, inaccurate records and summary offenses, and a separate petition must be filed for each item on the record.
  • Ease of Resolution. While expungements for qualified applicants are much easier to obtain, they only apply in specific instances. Pardons, meanwhile, can apply to virtually any criminal offense or group of offenses, but are much more difficult to obtain. An expungement can be resolved within a few weeks if the proper paperwork is in order, but a pardon takes at least three years just to be investigated and reviewed!
  • Process. Expungements are obtained with a simple court petition, and if you meet the qualifications outlined in the state statute, your record will be cleared. Pardons are much more circumstantial. An appearance before the 5-member Board of Pardons must be requested and if three of the five members find your story compelling enough, your case is then recommended for a pardon. The governor then can decide whether to issue the pardon.

For more information, please see these articles in Fine Living Lancaster:
The Problems of a Criminal Record
Criminal Records: What Can Be Cleared and When

gma
Not long ago, we received a call at Record Eraser from a senior citizen with a question…

The woman on the other end of the line said she was 65 and seeking an expungement for a summary retail theft conviction that had been on her record since she was 18 years-old (47 years ago).

She was eligible for expungement five years after her conviction, but by then her record had become a closely guarded secret. For 42 years, she had lived with regret, always fearful her family would one day find out the truth.

“I can’t believe I’m talking to a total stranger about my shame,” she said. Then, before quickly hanging up, she tearfully added, “I’m so scared my grandchildren will find out their grandmother is a thief.”

I wish she hadn’t ended the call. There was so much I could have said to ease her pain. I would have told her we have a 100 percent success rate with qualified expungement candidates. I would have told her we could take care of it quietly and in short order and that her humiliation could finally be lifted.

Then I would have told her about a woman I’ll call “Mary.”

Mary is a 60-year-old woman who was convicted of a felony drug offense 22 years ago. The conviction has always hovered just in the background of Mary’s life, serving as an embarrassing reminder of her mistake. But Mary didn’t opt to seek a pardon from the Governor until just recently, when one of the horrible consequences of her past finally caught up with her: she was denied the ability to work in her grandchildren’s daycare.

The shame and embarrassment Mary had felt for so long was finally supplanted by a much more visceral emotion. It wasn’t anger or sorrow or outrage. The consequences were, after all, hers to bear. But Mary had paid her debt to society. She had turned her life around. She had moved past that jarring experience … or so she thought.

Mary came to RecordEraserPA with her story, and when she presented her case to the board of pardons, she never wavered from the facts. She took responsibility. She also explained her situation, and asked the board’s members for forgiveness and understanding. Her story must have resonated with them, because they voted 5-0 to recommended her for a pardon. Now her shame has turned to joy and redemption!

Now the Governor can act.

To the grandmother who prematurely ended that phone call — if you’re reading this — please know that we can help. It’s what we do.

It’s never too late for a second chance.

choices
Most criminal cases begin when someone has a lapse in judgement, or is under the influence of drugs or alcohol. After the crime occurs, they go through the system, sheepishly, accept their conviction, and go on to find it is virtually impossible to get employment.

So first, avoid criminal behavior! Make choices that make it unlikely you will have a conversation with the police.

However, when one does get charged with a crime – protecting your record begins with consulting an experienced criminal defense attorney immediately! Pursue any alternative program that allows one to avoid conviction.

For instance, if one smokes marijuana and gets caught there are two likely outcomes (assuming that the police acted lawfully and there are no search and seizure issues):

One pleads guilty, pays a small fine, loses one’s driver’s license, and has 30 days probation, and receives a conviction that will be on their record until they file for a Pardon!

-OR-

One applies for ARD (or section 17 disposition, in the past), receives 30 days probation, small fine, no license loss (possibly), and the charges are dismissed upon completion. This resolution allows an expungement immediately!

Two drastically different outcomes based on knowledge of the law and the system. Always consult an experienced attorney if you get in trouble. Better yet, avoid criminal behavior.