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June 18, 2016

Legislation could mean bigger fines for marijuana in Pennsylvania

Maximum penalties would turn into mandatory minimums

The fines for having a small amount of weed in Pennsylvania could go up under proposed legislation.

House Bill 1422 would amend the law regarding penalties for possession of the drug. It was introduced by State Rep. Barry Jozwiak, R-Berks, last year and is scheduled for a vote in the Judiciary Committee.

Jozwiak said he introduced the legislation in an attempt to make things easier on those caught with small amounts of marijuana (30 grams), as it would reduce first and second offenses from misdemeanors to summary offenses.

He said in a memo circulated last year that the law would ease costs on local law enforcement, as misdemeanors have to be prosecuted by district attorneys.

"For individuals who merely possess small amounts of marijuana, I believe this adjusted grading makes sense, saving taxpayers thousands of dollars in court costs," Jozwiak wrote.

But here's the thing: The bill also changes two words that could mean much stiffer penalties for those caught with small amounts of marijuana.

As PhillyNORML recently pointed out, those caught with a small amount of marijuana are currently punished with a fine "not exceeding" $500, no matter how many offenses you rack up.

The bill would change the words "not exceeding" to "not less than," meaning maximum fines would turn into mandatory minimums. Additionally, the fine would increase to at least $750 for the second offense, and $1,000 for the third offense. 

“Young people, low income residents and people of color will suffer greatly under an increase in possession fines,” said Chris Goldstein, a member of the board of directors for PhillyNORML, in a statement.

It's not clear why the bill makes this change. That aspect is not addressed in the memo and Jozwiak's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment Saturday.

Correction: This article has been corrected to show that the current punishment for possession of a small amount of marijuana is a fine "not exceeding" $500, no matter how many offenses you are hit with, and the maximum fine is not $750 for the second offense and $1,000 for the third offense.