A Pennsylvania lawmaker who’s running for lieutenant governor has introduced two bills to lessen penalties for possession of small amounts of marijuana. Sen. Mike Stack, a Philadelphia Democrat, said at a news conference today one bill – SB 1307 – would make possession of less than an ounce of pot a summary offense for the first two incidents. After that, local prosecutors would have discretion to file criminal charges. Possession of up to 30 grams, or about an ounce, of marijuana is now a misdemeanor carrying a maximum penalty of 30 days in prison and a $500 fine.
Stack, one of six candidates vying to be the running mate of the Democratic nominee for governor, also is introducing a bill – SB 1308 – to make it easier for people to have their records expunged of convictions for possession of small amounts of the drug. Both bills were referred Tuesday to the Senate Judiciary Committee.
“These bills are not intended to be a commentary on the wisdom or health of marijuana use,” Stack said in a statement. “They are targeted at the wisdom of continuing an approach that is expensive, ineffective and misguided. These bills are a challenge to those who walk these halls and profess their support for smaller government at a lower cost to taxpayers.”
Reforming Pennsylvania’s marijuana laws has been an issue in the four-way Democratic gubernatorial race between York businessman Tom Wolf, U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz, state Treasurer Rob McCord and former state Environmental Protection Secretary Katie McGinty. Former state Auditor General Jack Wagner dropped out of the race today. The primary election is May 20. Stack said the bills have support from Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams. “I firmly believe that possession of small amounts of marijuana should remain a crime because marijuana use has negative health consequences,” Williams said in a statement. “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.”
The bills are in addition to legislation in the General Assembly’s 2013-14 session that would legalize marijuana and create a medical marijuana program. Sen. Daylin Leach, D-Montgomery, is backing both those efforts while running for Congress in Pennsylvania’s 13th Congressional District. Gov. Tom Corbett, who is seeking re-election to a second term, has said he opposes any liberalization of marijuana laws. The former state attorney general said he would veto any legalization bill, even if it was limited to medical uses because he considers marijuana a “gateway drug” whose use leads to more dangerous drugs.
Meanwhile, in New Jersey, the chairman of that state’s Senate Judiciary Committee announced details this week of his proposal to legalize marijuana, tax it and use the revenue to pay to fix the state’s roads and bridges. State Sen. Nicholas Scutari, who is also municipal prosecutor in Linden, announced details of his Senate Bill 1896 on Monday, acknowledging that opposition from Gov. Chris Christie could seriously hinder it but pointing out “he’s not going to be governor forever.”
Scutari, a Democrat, said in addition to a bonanza of new revenue, allowing adults to legally buy marijuana to use recreationally would curb the drug sales-fueled crime that grips several New Jersey cities and reduce the number of people who get criminal records for pot possession. He also said regulators could ensure the safety of the pot people buy legally.
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