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State College To Consider Change To Marijuana Law

State College Borough Council will hold a public hearing to consider adopting an ordinance that would treat possession of small amounts of marijuana as a summary offense. Possession is currently a misdemeanor offense. The hearing is likely to occur at the council’s May 2 meeting.

The proposed change was brought to the council by Penn State senior Luis Rolfo during public comment at the March 14 meeting and discussed at Monday’s meeting. Council voted unanimously to consider the ordinance based on similar ones in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, moving it to a public hearing.

“This is a very simple, common sense solution to a simple problem,” Rolfo said Monday in thanking the council for consideration.

The fine structure for simple possession — 30 grams or less of marijuana or eight grams or less of hashish —  is similar to an open container violation. Individuals in possession of or smoking marijuana would be issued a non-traffic citation, rather than receiving a criminal charge. Possession results in a $250 citation and smoking a $350 citation. Parents of individuals under the age of 18 who are cited would be notified.

In Philadelphia, a similar ordinance was passed when the district attorney’s office became so overwhelmed with simple possession cases it declined to prosecute any more. Philadelphia was faced with 3,700 cases in 2012 when it moved on the ordinance. State College Police Chief Tom King said in 2015 the borough only had 29 cases of simple possession. Such cases for first time offenders result in Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition programs for the offender with the chance to have his or her record expunged.

But while the proposed ordinance would have only some effect on lightening the load for police and courts, it could have significant impact for students. Rolfo explained that college students convicted of drug offenses face the suspension of federal student aid.

“If one of those 29 people arrested (in State College) last year were to go to court and get a conviction they would be at risk of losing their federal aid and have to repay it back,” Rolfo said. “I feel like this (ordinance) is the right thing to do and I’m very glad council is considering passing it.”

The Department of Education federal student aid website says that even those accepted into ARD programs lose their aid until the program is successfully completed.

Driving a vehicle while smoking or having recently smoked marijuana would still result in a DUI charge. Additionally marijuana found in the process of an investigation of other crimes, under rules of criminal procedure the possession would be charged as a misdemeanor, King said.

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