Each legislative session thousands of bills and amendments are introduced in the Pennsylvania Legislature. Only a fraction become law, and an even smaller portion receive wide media coverage.
These bills impact the lives of people living in Pennsylvania every day.
Each week The Sentinel will highlight one bill that has not received widespread attention.
About the bill
In 2016, more than 700 criminal cases in Cumberland County included a charge for the possession of a small amount of marijuana.
Of those, the misdemeanor offense was the highest, and in many instances, the only charge in more than 250 cases, according to analysis of court records conducted by The Sentinel.
The county is on pace to eclipse both of those numbers in 2017, according to court records.
Rep. Barry Jozwiak, R-Berks County, has introduced a bill that would reduce the charge from a misdemeanor to a summary offense — making it similar to an underage drinking ticket.
“As a former law enforcement officer, I strongly believe in cracking down on drug dealers and those who prey on the young or weak with drugs,” Jozwiak wrote in a co-sponsoship letter. “But those defendants are addressed elsewhere in the Controlled Substances Act. For individuals who merely possess small amounts of marijuana, I believe this adjusted grading makes sense.”
A conviction for the possession of a small amount of marijuana currently carries a possible imprisonment of up to 30 days, a fine of up to $500 and a driver’s license suspension.
Jozwiak’s bill, HB 928, would reduce the grading of a first or second offense from a misdemeanor to a summary offense with a maximum fine of $300, no possible jail time and no driver’s license suspension.
Third and subsequent offenses would be graded as a misdemeanor and carry a possible fine of up to $1,000 and a six month driver’s license suspension, but would not include any possible jail time.
Jozwiak wrote in his letter that it cost Berks County more than $1.5 million to prosecute 632 small amount of marijuana cases last year, and the county only brought in $126,000 in fines from those cases.
Reducing the grading of the offense would allow the cases to be handled by lower courts and reduce costs on both the county and the defendant, Jozwiak wrote.
Jozwiak also said the bill would allow law enforcement to focus on more serious offenses.
“It would certainly be a great reduction in time and paperwork expended on that effort,” Hampden Township Police Chief Steven Junkin said to The Sentinel in December for a story on a rise in cases involving the charge. “I don’t think you would get too much push back from too many police departments.”
Similar bills have been introduced in the legislature in previous legislative sessions, but have garnered little traction.