Decriminalizing Marijuana in Philadelphia

The mayor of Philadelphia, Michael Nutter, signed legislation to decriminalize marijuana on October 1, 2014. The new Philadelphia Marijuana Decriminalization Bill went into effect on October 20, 2014 and creates greater leniency for those in the possession of small amounts of marijuana in the city of Philadelphia.

Marijuana decriminalization in Philadelphia

The New Fines and Penalties

The signing of Philadelphia Marijuana Decriminalization Bill – also known as Jim Kenney’s marijuana decriminalization bill – changes the law so that certain low marijuana offenses no longer result in misdemeanors, but instead will result in a fine and citation. The new fines are as follows:

  • 30 grams or less of marijuana – citation and fined $25.
  • Smoking marijuana in public – citation and fined $100, or 9 hours of community service.

In addition to receiving a citation and fine or community service, those in possession of marijuana will have the substance confiscated. It is important to note that those in possession of marijuana who fail to show government identification to the citation officer may also be arrested. Those carrying over 30 grams of marijuana will still be charged with an offense that will go on his or her criminal record.

Current Marijuana Laws

According to NORML (The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws), under the previous law, individuals selling, distributing, or in the possession of 30 grams or less of marijuana were charged with a misdemeanor, imprisoned for 30 days and given a maximum fine of $500. The new law significantly decreases the fine, by $450, and it will reduce the misdemeanor to a citation.

Laws pertaining to 30 grams or more of marijuana will remain the same. This means that selling, distributing, or being in the possession of 30 grams or more will result in the same fines and penalties that were previously in place. Individuals who are in possession of 30 grams or more of marijuana will be charged with a misdemeanor, will serve 1 year in prison, and will owe a maximum fine of $5,000.

Anyone selling or distributing 30 grams or more of marijuana will be charged with a felony. The sentencing and fine vary depending the amount of marijuana the individual is charged with selling or distributing, with the punishments ranging from: 1 year in prison and a $5,000 fine for 2 to 5 pounds; 3 to 10 years in prison and a fine of $25,000 for 10 to 1,000 pounds; and 10 years in prison with a fine of up to $100,000 for selling more than 1,000 pounds of marijuana.

Decriminalization is Not Legalization

According to, most people usually buy an eighth of an ounce or less of marijuana in one purchase, which means that by decriminalizing 30 grams – which is just over an ounce – many marijuana smokers can forgo having offenses put on their criminal records because the chances of those individuals carrying the criminal amount is less likely. Marijuana, however, is still considered illegal in Philadelphia. While the new bill allows pot smokers to be in possession of no more than 30 grams, marijuana is still illegal and warrants at least a fine and a citation.

Benefits of Decriminalizing Marijuana

There are many benefits of the marijuana decriminalization bill including:

  • Decriminalization may prevent many harmless offenders from having criminal records
  • Decriminalization may prevent possible jail time for a non-dangerous and harmless offense
  • Decriminalization may prevent forcing individual offenders from going to court, which can lead to mounting court fees, which can in turn lead to jail time if the offender is unable to pay the fees
  • Decriminalization may also lower the recidivism rate – whether by preventing the otherwise nonviolent offender from being arrested and labeled an offender in the first place, or by preventing the individual from owing outrageous fees, which, again, can lead to arrest and jail time

Expungement Options for Past Marijuana Charges in Philadelphia

Pennsylvania’s current expungement laws are very stringent, making it potentially very difficult to expunge a Philadelphia marijuana offense. If you have been charged with a misdemeanor for possession or consumption of marijuana, you may be able to have your charge expunged from your record.

In Pennsylvania, there are a few options for expungement including summary offense expungement, ARD expungement, juvenile expungement and expungement of a conviction. Regular expungement is limited to individuals who were arrested but not convicted, who are 70 years of age or older, and who have been free from arrest and conviction for the past 10 years. Individuals can also petition for the expungement of loved ones criminal records three years after the person with the Pennsylvania criminal record has passed.

If you were convicted of a marijuana offense under the prior laws in Philadelphia, chances are that you will not be able to expunge the offense from your criminal record, because misdemeanor convictions generally are not eligible.

If your marijuana charge resulted in ARD (Accelerated Rehabilitation Disposition), then you may be eligible to get your marijuana offense expunged from your record through an ARD expungement. ARD is a type of diversionary sentence usually given to first time offenders. Once ARD is completed, it dismisses the case so that the disposition becomes dismissed rather than resulting in a conviction or a plea of guilty.

If your adult marijuana offense resulted in a misdemeanor without ARD (Levels 1-3), you may only be eligible to apply for a pardon. Pardons are processed by the Pennsylvania Board of Pardons and are approved by the governor. If your petition for a pardon is granted, you can then apply to petition for expungement.

Expungement Options for Marijuana Charges Under the New Law in Philadelphia

Once the new law decriminalizing marijuana went into effect, those smoking or in the possession of 30 grams or less of marijuana will receive a fine and a citation in Philadelphia. Even though the new law will not result in a misdemeanor, the law may still result in a criminal record. Citations and other forms of infractions are recognized as summary offenses that are neither misdemeanors nor felonies and include very minor offenses.

Summary offenses such as citations will remain on a person’s criminal record until the offense and related incident is actively removed through record expungement. Once your marijuana charge is expunged from your criminal record, the individual is relieved of having to disclose his or her criminal record.

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