State senator asks DA’s to stop prosecuting low-level marijuana offenses

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HARRISBURG — A state senator published an open letter Friday to Pennsylvania’s 67 district attorneys asking them to stop prosecuting marijuana possession and smoking cases.

Sen. Daylin Leach, a democrat, cited that nine states have already legalized marijuana for adult use while 13 others have decriminalized it.

A portion of his letter stated, “If people are convicted this year, and legalization occurs next year or the year thereafter, thousands of people will have a stain on their record that will be extremely difficult or impossible to remove.”

Sen. Leach, who represents parts of Montgomery and Delaware counties, introduced a bill in 2017 that would legalize marijuana for adult use throughout the commonwealth. A year prior, his bill to legalize medical marijuana was signed into law.

The full letter can be seen below:

This is an open letter to Pennsylvania’s 67 District Attorneys. I ask that in your role as President of the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association you distribute this letter to all of your members.

This week, Cyrus Vance Jr., the District Attorney of Manhattan, joined a number of other District Attorneys from around the nation, and announced that his office would no longer prosecute marijuana possession. I am writing to ask you to consider adopting a similar policy.

As you know better than anyone, prosecutors have great discretion when deciding which cases they choose to bring with the finite resources provided to them. Mr. Vance concluded that prosecuting lower-level marijuana offenses no longer makes sense for several reasons.

The first reason Mr. Vance cited was the support for legalization among New Yorkers, and the “likelihood” that New York would eventually legalize adult-use marijuana. That same level of support is evident among Pennsylvanians. A Franklin and Marshall poll from 2017 found that 59% of Pennsylvanians support full legalization. This is consistent with national polls that put support for legalization at approximately 60% and growing.

Mr. Vance’s office also noted the racial disparity in the number of people arrested for marijuana offenses. Despite an identical rate of use, African Americans are eight times more likely than Caucasians to be arrested for marijuana use or possession of marijuana.

The bottom line is that an arrest can ruin a life. It can mean hefty fines and huge costs for legal assistance. It can mean incarceration, as well as the loss of a job, admission to a college, financial aid, etc. It can also result in one being prohibited from working in certain professions and job applicants having to check a box indicating they have a criminal conviction whenever they apply for a new job.

Nine states have already legalized marijuana for adult use, and another 13 states have decriminalized. Here in Pennsylvania, Philadelphia now treats lower-grade marijuana offenses as summary offenses, with a $25 ticket (and no involvement in the criminal justice system) being the penalty. It also seems likely that New Jersey will end prohibition within the next year.

All off this supports the notion that it doesn’t make sense to prosecute people (21,000 statewide last year) for something that will likely not be a crime much longer. If people are convicted this year, and legalization occurs next year or the year thereafter, thousands of people will have a stain on their record that will be extremely difficult or impossible to remove.

Ending the prosecution of low-grade marijuana offenses will give your office more time and resources to prosecute the truly dangerous cases which are so critical to protecting all of us. I hope you will seriously consider making this change of policy and letting the public know.

Thank you for taking the time to read this letter and consider this suggestion.

Very Truly Yours,

Senator Daylin Leach

17th Senatorial District

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