There is a wide range of charges that can be brought involving controlled substances.
The more serious charges – felonies – usually include delivering drugs to someone else or growing recreational marijuana. The more minor charges – misdemeanors – usually involve possession of marijuana, simple possession, paraphernalia, etc. Different drugs are treated differently; for instance, heroin and fentanyl are treated much more seriously than marijuana.
- The Problem With Marijuana
- A Compound Problem
- The Good News For Marijuana-Related Convictions
- The Expedited Review
- An Example of the Expedited Review
- In Summation
- Frequently Asked Questions About Marijuana-Related Convictions
The Problem With Marijuana:
Due to its’ popularity, most drug-related charges that are filed involve marijuana. Because many states have passed marijuana legalization laws or began issuing medical marijuana program cards, marijuana is very likely to receive a favorable disposition – meaning ‘no conviction’. But let’s start at the beginning of the process.
Every criminal case starts with a criminal charge filed on a criminal complaint. A charge is an allegation of what the police think they can prove. It does not become a conviction until someone pleads guilty or goes to trial and gets a criminal conviction.
Plenty of drug charges are filed every year that do NOT result in a criminal or misdemeanor conviction. Many marijuana charges, like marijuana possession, get a diversionary program as a result – whether it is ARD (Alternative Rehabilitative Disposition), or what is called a Section 17 (probation with a conviction that is then expugnable), or a dismissal after a drug and alcohol evaluation. All of these results are NOT convictions, and a simple expungement will remove these charges that did not result in a conviction within a few months. Read our earlier blog post to learn more about the difference between expungement and pardons. Other dispositions that indicate potential expungement are ‘nolle-prossed,’ ‘withdrawn,’ ‘dismissed,’ ‘no disposition (as well as the ARD and Section 17 mentioned before). Expungement petitions are filed in the County of Conviction.
A Compound Problem
The problems these criminal records create are compounded because employers, landlords, and other officials do not understand what they are reading. Even if you were NOT convicted, If you are applying for an apartment lease and your drug charge shows up on your public criminal history, your chances of getting the apartment are decreased compared to someone with no charge on their record. Everyone should always know what’s on their criminal record.
Some drug-related charges DO result in a conviction. Dispositions reading ‘plead guilty,’ ‘found guilty,’ ‘nolo-contendere’ (no contest), or ‘convicted’ are indications that the allegation is now a finding of guilt. In Pennsylvania, these convictions will require a pardon from the Governor before they can be expunged.
The Good News For Marijuana-Related Convictions:
However, there is good news for marijuana-related convictions. Marijuana is being legalized in many states, and many think that Pennsylvania will be next on the list. Regardless of legalization, the Pennsylvania Board of Pardons understands that it is frequently a non-violent crime committed by ordinary citizens and young people who have no moral defects, no criminal intent, and no malice. Accordingly, the Board has created an expedited process to review marijuana charges.
The Expedited Review:
The expedited review means that if a pardon applicant seeks to clear a marijuana-related conviction, there is less need for a highly investigative process and the full review should be accomplished more quickly. This means that, whereas a standard pardon investigation and review can take two years or more, most marijuana-related reviews are moving through the process in as little as a year. There may not be the need for an interview or presentation in front of the Board of Pardons.
Even the felony charge for growing or distributing marijuana may now qualify for what the Board of Pardons is considering under the process of ‘Expedited Review.’ The review can include Marijuana-related paraphernalia charges and conspiracy charges if they are marijuana-related.
An Example of the Expedited Review
The case of a young person who might have a felony marijuana conviction for growing pot or delivering it to someone else reflects the positive aspects of the expedited review application process. That felony will create problems with employment, housing, education, and the right to possess or carry a firearm. An expedited pardon is what is needed. But what if this young man also had a driving under the influence (alcohol) conviction after the marijuana charge. If the DUI is included in the pardon application, it CANNOT be expedited. (To be clear, if the DUI was marijuana-related and the driver had a medical marijuana card, it could be included, but for my example, the DUI was alcohol-related). In this case, I would file a pardon application only on the marijuana felony to maintain its expedited review. Including the DUI would have slowed down the review and decreased the application’s chances of success.
Remember, every pardon that is granted should be expunged. In theory, the pardon should ‘clear the record,’ but an expungement filed in the county of conviction obtains a court order ordering the record to be cleared. The Pennsylvania State Police will erase the record in the Official Repository and notify the FBI of the erasure.
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Frequently Asked Questions About Marijuana-Related Convictions
- Is marijuana legal in Pennsylvania?
- Is marijuana decriminalized in Pennsylvania?
- How long do marijuana charges stay on your record?
Is marijuana legal in Pennsylvania?
Even though medical marijuana is now legal in 32 states, including Pennslyvania and the District of Columbia, adult-use marijuana, or the recreational consumption of cannabis, remains illegal under Pennsylvania marijuana laws.
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Is marijuana decriminalized in Pennsylvania?
In certain cities, such as Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Harrisburg, York, State College, and Lancaster, small amounts of marijuana are not prosecuted as seriously as in others. However, you will still have a record to contend with that will stick with you for at least five years if not dealt with properly.
How long do marijuana charges stay on your record?
In most of Pennsylvania, possession of marijuana is a misdemeanor charge. In places that have decriminalized it, like the city of Harrisburg and Philadelphia, it’s only a summary offense. Summary offenses are eligible for expungement after five years.