Phila. lawmaker's bill would lower penalties for pot possession

A Philadelphia lawmaker wants to relax the penalties for possessing small amounts of marijuana.

Sen. Mike Stack, a Democrat, said Wednesday he is introducing two bills: one to lower the penalty for someone found with an ounce of pot of less and another to expunge the record of a first-time marijuana offender after five years.

“Beyond the financial cost, our antiquated marijuana laws clog our criminal justice system and consume time that can be better spent arresting and prosecuting violent criminals,” Stack said. “Over the past 20 years, the number of marijuana arrests has exploded but the price of marijuana has dropped and the availability and potency has increased.”

Stack, who also is running for lieutenant governor, raised the issue of racial disparity when it comes to marijuana arrests, saying that African Americans are five times as likely to get arrested as white pot smokers.

Stack stopped short of saying he would support decriminalization of marijuana, but added he thought that with others states legalizing marijuana it was a conversation "worth having."

Stack was joined at a Capitol news conference by former DEP Secretary and former Democratic candidate for governor, John Hanger who, until dropping out earlier this month, was running on a "pro-pot" platform,

"Current laws brand good people as drug criminals for the rest of their lives." said Hanger.

Stack said the result of current laws is that nonviolent offenders get sent to prison and cannot find jobs when they are released.

Don't expect the Stack bills to become law anytime soon..

"The General Assembly recently passed a fairly comprehensive justice reinvestment initiative," said Erik Arneson, spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi (R, Delaware). "That applies to many categories of non-violent offenders. At this point, I don’t anticipate additional action which would deal only with a narrow subset of non-violent offenders."

Still, there are more pro-marijuana bills floating through the Capitol these days than ever before.

Stack's colleagues Sen. Daylin Leach (D., Montgomery) and Sen. Mike Folmer (R., Lebanon) have introduced a bill to legalize marijuana for medical purposes.

Stack's bill (Senate Bill 1307) would reduce possession of less than an ounce of marijuana to a summary offense for the first two offenses and give discretion to the District Attorney to charge a misdemeanor, use Accelerated Rehabilitation Disposition, or other options.

Stack, whose ideas are supported by Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams, said reducing charges against non-violent offenders would allow prosecutors to go after violent criminals.

“I firmly believe that possession of small amounts of marijuana should remain a crime because marijuana use has negative health consequences,” said Williams.

“However, I appreciate the efforts of Senator Stack to ensure our laws related to possession of small amounts of marijuana are fair and provide prosecutors discretion to recommend appropriate sanctions. These two principals are not mutually exclusive, and Senator Stack should be applauded for his work."

Another Stack bill would allow for an offender to expunge a conviction of possessing small amounts of marijuana five years later as long as there were no other offenses.







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