All posts tagged: Marijuana Laws

Marijuana Decriminalization in Pittsburgh: What Does It Mean?

MarijuanaHaving been in the front lines of the fight for marijuana legalization in the state of Pennsylvania, I am naturally excited by the recent events in Pittsburgh. The City Council voted in favor of decriminalization of small amounts of marijuana and hashish within city limits.

This is a big step forward in the fight, make no mistake. It will also be a relief for citizens, the court system and police. No longer will the police and the courts be tied up dealing with simple possession charges, which will translate to an estimated annual savings to the city of one million dollars per year.

For citizens, it means a fine rather than criminal charges, and the stain of having a criminal record, losing one’s drivers license (6 month suspension if convicted of possession), or even losing employment. That alone makes the victory worth celebrating.

That said, let’s not celebrate too much. Marijuana is still illegal.

Many people are understandably confused by what this all means, so here’s a quick breakdown:

Can I just go out and light up?

Absolutely not. In fact, the fines range from $25 to $100 because it’s at the discretion of the police, and they’re going to base that decision on the discretion, or lack thereof, of the offender. The more public the circumstances, the larger the fine.

What if I’m driving?

Driving under the influence of any drug, even a prescribed medication, is considered Driving Under the Influence (DUI). If a Pittsburgh police officer has reason to believe a driver is impaired, they can arrest them for a DUI, and cite them for possession. Those type of situations can be complicated, and it’s advisable to have legal representation if you are so charged.

Is the presence of marijuana still considered ‘Probable Cause” for a search?

Yes. Marijuana is still an illegal substance, possession of which is grounds for a further search of a vehicle or your person. The same applies when an officer smells marijuana.

Does Decriminalization apply to surrounding towns, etc.?

No. Decriminalization applies only within the city limits of Pittsburgh. Marijuana possession in the rest of Allegheny county is still a criminal offense.

Will there be ‘court costs’ associated with the fine?

No. If the fine is paid within 30 days, it’s just the fine. Failure to pay could lead to increased fines or even additional charges, so it’s important to pay that fine.

Hopefully this addresses your questions regarding Marijuana Decriminalization in Pittsburgh.

It’s important to remember that this is a battle we’ve won in a much larger campaign, and there is still work to be done. Pennsylvanians overwhelmingly support Medicinal Marijuana and a majority support full legalization. We must continue to bring the fight to Harrisburg until all of the citizens of Pennsylvania have access to the medicine they need and responsible, common sense legislation for adult recreational marijuana use.

 

 

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Patrick NightingaleMarijuana Decriminalization in Pittsburgh: What Does It Mean?
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Lessons from Colorado. What I saw and didn’t see in the “Wild West of Weed.”

MarijuanaThe word of the day, of the year, in Colorado, is COMPLIANCE.

One might think the state of Pennsylvania would appreciate this, as the state operates “PA Wine & Spirits”, or “State Stores” as they are commonly called.

In Colorado, the state does not actually sell marijuana, but they do regulate the stores that sell, and it’s pretty impressive how they have really taken into consideration all aspects of retail marijuana.
Retail outlets are clean, discreet dispensaries with licensed employees.

This no Cheech and Chong version of legal weed. (Not that I have anything against Cheech and Chong. They seem harmless enough to me). This is serious business for both the state and retailers. These licenses are far too hard to get to lose it over non-compliance.

Underage sales are virtually impossible to make as each store has at least two points of checking ID.

In terms of service, PA Wine & Spirits could learn a thing or two from the legal cannabis business model. Dispensaries are staffed by individual ‘bud tenders’ to assist the customer in finding the strains that best suit their individual needs.

Two other key elements are clear, easy to read labeling and safe packaging. The legal marijuana business is as straight forward as any regulated business I can think of, with plenty of safeguards in place.

One of the big concerns about legal marijuana has been eliminating any chance of children getting their hands on cannabis. This is why dispensaries are required to provide child proof bags to ensure children don’t accidentally become exposed.

Marijuana MUST be in a child proof package before leaving the store. The paper and plastic bags associated with liquor stores don’t come close to this kind of responsible packaging.

There is no window shopping, either.

For example, in Denver, one must cannot just go in and wander around dispensaries. The stores have websites where potential customers can do their window shopping prior to their visit to the store.

Originally, the medicinal licensing required vertical integration – a dispensary had to grow its own. That requirement was recently eliminated, but the successful dispensaries are in control of their own inventory. They want to make certain people are getting the strains that work best for their individual medical conditions– another reason stores have licensed, knowledgeable employees.

Colorado is even more serious about growing marijuana. Grow operations face inspections and often have armed security, and they have real time video monitoring with a feed to the Marijuana Enforcement Division. Yes, Colorado has a division of government much like our own Liquor Control Board, or LCB, to regulate marijuana growing and sales.

This is frustrating for those of us still on the front lines of the fight for legalization.

In Pennsylvania, state officials in opposition act as if they have to invent the wheel when it comes to a common sense, responsible and effective system of retail compliance. Yet, here is an excellent working model where all the legwork has already been done.

Licensing, safety, and taxation are all in place. It’s simply a case of taking the Colorado business model and tailoring it to meet the needs of the citizens of Pennsylvania. Not just the needs of those who wish to indulge, but also those citizens who have legitimate concerns about the issue. It’s a fair approach that can work here.

Pennsylvania is a state where polling suggests a majority of citizens– especially in and around urban areas like Pittsburgh and Philadelphia– support legalization in some form. By adopting a common sense, well regulated approach like that in Colorado, we can provide the medicine people need and the recreational use people want, while effectively addressing the needs and concerns of all of the citizens of our state.

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Patrick NightingaleLessons from Colorado. What I saw and didn’t see in the “Wild West of Weed.”
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Blame Buddie: Ohio Rejects Legal Weed

Issue-3-mascotThere’s already plenty of crowing from the anti-legalization crowd as Ohio has rejected marijuana legalization. But, is that what actually happened?

The proposals Ohio voters were asked to consider were somewhat confusing. Issue 3- legalization- was countered by Issue 2, which stipulates that it is illegal to insert economic privileges into the state constitution, which Issue 3 essentially did by stipulating a limited number of growing licenses be issued to predetermined recipients and leaving the rest out in the cold, thus essentially creating a growers cartel.

Some voters were obviously opposed to legalization itself, but there were also many who support legalization, yet are opposed to setting up monopolies for big business with little or no mention of taxes, education, etc.

And then there was “Buddie”.

Buddie is the mascot for the legalization movement in Ohio, and can best be summed up in the words of my 14 year old daughter. When shown a picture of Buddie, she said, “Oh my God, that’s awful!”

Thus even my child saw how irresponsible it was to include a mascot that could easily be construed as appealing to children.

The number one argument of opponents to reform has consistently been a fear that kids would take up toking as a result of legalization. In my recent visit to Denver, I found the exact opposite to be true.

Marijuana dispensaries were clean, efficient and safe. They require ID to enter and if you go in, you must buy. No window shopping and no children at all.

The staff was very helpful and professional. Indeed, it was very much like purchasing alcohol at a Pennsylvania State store.

And the numbers bear this out. Colorado has actually seen a drop in marijuana use by those under 18 since legalization.

And yet, here’s Buddie. In the eyes of opponents, it was like Disney World had opened a park dedicated to Cheech and Chong, complete with a smiling character based on a bud for the children to play with.

It might be the single dumbest move ever in the history of the legalization movement.

Coupled with the confusion created by Issue 2 and Issue 3, and the reluctance of many supporters to embrace creating a monopoly, it’s no wonder the measure failed to pass.

It stands as a warning to those of us in the movement to legalize. Even though there are states that have passed legalization, giving impetus to others to continue the fight, it has also created a sense of false hope that it would become easier now that Colorado and others have legalized weed.

Ohio stands as a stark reminder that the fight is going to be a hard one that is going to continue.

Here in Pennsylvania, we have consistently taken a two pronged approach to the fight. The first is that Marijuana is quite simply medicine for many people with chronic medical conditions.

The second is RESPONSIBLE USE by ADULTS, regulated in the same way we regulate the consumption of alcohol.

We have consistently advocated not just for legalization, but for educational programs that would steer kids away from marijuana until they are legally old enough to make the decision for themselves. No one in Pittsburgh NORML would for a moment suggest doing anything that might impede or contradict that policy.

“Responsible Ohio”, the advocacy group, in creating a mascot that flies in the face of that logic in the way Buddie does, could hardly be considered being responsible.

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Patrick NightingaleBlame Buddie: Ohio Rejects Legal Weed
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Baseball, Hot Dogs, Apple Pie and… Marijuana

marijuana law reformAs we’ve been winding down our summer, and the Autumn chill begins to turn the leaves brown, I’ve been thinking about the things we love as a nation, about patriotism and the things we hold to be “American”.

While it’s true that marijuana was once something that came from south of the border, illegally brought to this country by Mexican and South American drug cartels using speed boats and drug mules in the middle of the night, that is no longer the case.

Today it has become increasingly rare to see news stories of vast quantities of weed being interdicted by authorities at border check points, or tales of bales of marijuana floating to the Gulf shores after being jettisoned by smugglers at sea.

The reason for this is simple. America grows better weed than pretty much the rest of the world.

American marijuana enthusiasts rival French wine tasters in their knowledge of marijuana, the various strains, flavors and potency.
American growers are consistently producing a far superior product to anything smuggled across the border.

This has caused potential revenue from smuggling to dwindle to the point of where it is no longer worth the risk. The term, “Mexican Brick Weed” has become completely derogatory, meaning an inferior product no one wants.

Conversely, we’ve seen enormous streams of revenue being produced in states where marijuana is legal. Colorado alone has reaped millions of dollars in tax revenues generated by legal marijuana sales, revenue that is being used to fund education, law enforcement efforts to battle serious crimes, and programs to treat addiction to hard drugs. In fact, Colorado has produced so much revenue from legal weed, they’re even looking at tax rebates for all their citizens.

Not only is there tax revenue, there is also a growing industry providing jobs where there once was only the expenditures associated with interdiction, enforcement and imprisonment.

This is trickle down economics in spades, a veritable flood of revenue and tax relief one would think politicians would wholeheartedly embrace as being American ingenuity and capitalism at it’s finest.

And beyond the financial windfall, there is something else legal marijuana does for all Americans: It takes away a revenue stream from our enemies.

It’s no secret that the money from illegal drug sales often ends up in the hands of foreign enemies bent on destroying the United States. Profits from drugs like heroin become funding for terrorist organizations and even some foreign governments hostile to America.

Legal marijuana, grown by Americans for Americans, regulated by the government for safety and producing tax revenue, is a nightmare for the enemies of freedom.

Maybe you personally do not use marijuana, but I’d bet my bottom dollar that every single person who reads this has a close friend and even family members, who enjoys smoking marijuana. Chances are, you have someone in your life who is ill, and marijuana can be the medicine that they need to control and even eliminate their illness.

The fact is, marijuana prohibition has been a dismal failure, costing the nation billions of dollars over the past fifty years. Prohibition has fueled anti-American groups with funding to carry out attacks on Americans around the world. It has given vast sums of money to criminal organizations like the cartels and has caused the needless incarceration of hundreds of thousands of otherwise law abiding citizens who simply enjoy the mild intoxicating effects of marijuana.

For those who say marijuana is a “Gateway drug”, well, they are right even while being wrong. Rather than being a gateway TO drug abuse, the truth is, Colorado alone has seen a 25% REDUCTION in deaths resulting from the abuse of opioids (both illegal and prescription) since legalization. More and more accredited studies show that legal marijuana actually helps people to get off hard drugs like heroin. And less addicts means less money for our enemies to use against us. It is the gateway to freedom from addiction to hard drugs.

Much like alcohol prohibition in the early part of the twentieth century, marijuana prohibition has in truth benefited criminals the most, while leaving those who need medicine or simply enjoy smoking a little weed before watching Star Trek out to dry, and making them into criminals who in truth hurt no one.

The fact is, Marijuana use is as American as apple pie, and makes apple pie even more enjoyable to eat in the process. Legal marijuana takes away a resource used by our enemies and instead, uses it to create jobs, tax revenue and medicine used by and for Americans.

Legal Marijuana makes America stronger.

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Patrick NightingaleBaseball, Hot Dogs, Apple Pie and… Marijuana
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NFL to Pittsburgh NORML: Cease and Desist.

MarijuanaThe hypocycloid itself is a symbol that cannot be trademarked.

What is a hypocycloid, you may ask? It’s the star-like symbol incorporated in the logo used by the Pittsburgh Steelers- three hypocycloids with the word “Steelers” in a white circle.

In our quest to find a logo for Pittsburgh NORML, we chose a similar design which replaces the hypocycloids with marijuana leaves.

norml-logoThe NFL recently caught wind of our design and sent us a classic cease and desist order.

Now, I will concede that the NFL has an economic interest in protecting its “brand”. Their objection is premised on the belief that it’s consumers would confuse our two marks. In other words, the NFL believes our use of the hypocycloid will cause National Football League consumers to believe that we were affiliated with the league. How stupid do they think NFL fans are?

It would be nice if we were actually affiliated with a sport where chronic pain is commonplace and many of it’s own employees use marijuana to alleviate that pain. Some of them even use it for recreation.

Last year, we saw a Steelers running back get arrested for using marijuana. Le’Veon Bell was caught driving (with another player) and was high at the time. He got a DUI and faced disciplinary action from the league. Bell is still on the team, and just this past Monday had a stellar game running the ball against the San Diego Chargers. I guess it’s safe to say the wacky weed doesn’t have much of a negative impact on his performance.

Seriously, though, as far as making a fight against the League for our logo goes, we’re throwing in the proverbial terrible towel, but I want to use it as a teaching moment. In my response, I offer the following statement:

“We honestly believed that our use of the hypocycloid was a “fair use” and therefore permissible under intellectual property law. However, we have no interest in going toe to toe with the Almighty National Football League. We hope, however that the league will listen to it’s own players, who are demanding access to a non-toxic and wholly natural pain management alternative. We still considered our logo a fair use, falling under the parody clause. Certainly no one would confuse marijuana leaves as being the true logo of the Steelers. However, we are a small, local non profit – not a multi-billion dollar non profit like the NFL. We would rather work on legalizing marijuana in Pennsylvania than battle the all powerful NFL in court over a parody image.”

To be fair, the league would do the same thing if we were operating a hot dog cart, so their position is not about marijuana use.

Our logo position is not untenable, but we are choosing to focus our efforts and limited resources on what we feel is the important issue at stake here, and we’re making progress. In fact, the league has moved (slowly to be sure) towards our stance at NORML: Marijuana is medicine. This article in The Atlantic talks about the league taking a somewhat more enlightened approach to the issue.

Players like former Pitt star and Dallas Cowboys lineman Mark Stepnoski, who sits on NORML’s board of directors, and Marvin Washington, who spent 11 seasons in the NFL and now represents players as a financial adviser, agree that marijuana is medicine, and they are lobbying the league to take a more realistic, compassionate and enlightened approach to the issue.

Read about Marvin Washington here.

Why are these players coming forward in increasing numbers? Consider the case of NY Giants player Tyler Sash, from a story in Bleacher Report, whose use of opiate like drugs like methadone and hydrocodone to treat his chronic pain led to his untimely death at age 27.

We applaud these and other brave players who have publicly supported Marijuana as medicine, and encourage other players to ‘come out of the closet’ regarding marijuana use in the league.

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Patrick NightingaleNFL to Pittsburgh NORML: Cease and Desist.
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Disorderly Conduct: What Does It Mean?

speedy trial PADisorderly Conduct, or “DC” as it is often referred to, is a kind of catch-all charge. It is intentionally non-specific and is used primarily as a bargaining chip for people charged with something more serious, yet who pose no real danger to society.

A DC is a reduced umbrella charge and can include any number of situations, from public urination to a marijuana possession charge.

It is generally satisfied by paying a fine without admitting guilt on the original charge (say a possession charge) and is eligible to be expunged (removed from their record) after five years.

The advantages of having an attorney to negotiate this type of plea can be the difference between simply paying a fine and having a permanent scar on a person’s criminal record.

In the case of a possession charge, getting a reduction to a DC can save a person much more than money. For example, someone convicted of a marijuana possession charge faces an automatic suspension of their driving privileges for a period of six months. This can have a major negative impact, especially if one relies on having a drivers license to earn their living.

It can also negatively impact a person’s ability to be hired and work in various fields– transportation, certain legal fields, etc. A drug conviction can also lead to things like higher auto insurance rates.

A DC allows a person to avoid these kinds of potentially long term damages to their career and reputation.

In a big city like Pittsburgh, many times, depending of course on the circumstances surrounding the original arrest, is often predetermined by the arresting officer and magistrates office where the arrest occurred. In the case of marijuana possession, which the authorities consider a low priority crime in Pittsburgh, it’s to the courts advantage to cut through some red tape and offer the suspect to plea out to the lesser charge of Disorderly Conduct by simply mailing them a citation with a period of ten days to pay off the fine by mail. It essentially becomes a traffic ticket type of citation instead of a criminal charge.

Judges in the city really don’t like wasting valuable court time prosecuting someone for possessing a couple of joints.

But what happens, say, when the original arrest occurs in a smaller community in an outlying county?

It is well known in the legal community that small town police can often be hard on any drug related crimes, regardless of the amount in question. The courts there don’t have the massive caseloads one finds in Pittsburgh’s District Attorney’s office, and they are far less likely to offer any reduction at all, especially if the suspect chooses to face the court without the benefit of an attorney to negotiate for them.

Pittsburgh police operate without a quota system, so arresting officers have much more leeway in granting a DC. They have no quotas to fill, so they don’t need a certain number of convictions in order to satisfy their superiors that they are performing their duty and not hanging around Dunkin Donuts all day.

This is not true in many communities where police are expected to make a certain number of arrests each month. In addition, small town police are often in the “tough on crime” mold, making them far less likely to grant a DC when they feel confident they can get a possession conviction.

An attorney can be the bridge between the court, the arresting officer and the defendant, and a shield against long-term damages resulting from an otherwise minor event.

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Patrick NightingaleDisorderly Conduct: What Does It Mean?
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Medical Marijuana: A Brand New Battle in Pennsylvania

Patrick testifying at the State Capitol in Harrisburg. Hearing on SB 3, Medical Marijuana, February 25, 2015.

Patrick testifying at the State Capitol in Harrisburg. Hearing on SB 3, Medical Marijuana, February 25, 2015.

Who is Matthew Baker and more importantly, who does he think he is?

If I had to guess, he’s a power hungry politician who represents a very small percentage of Pennsylvanians. He seems more intent on being a pseudo scientist and medical professional than in being a legislator.

One cannot argue the republican representative is very popular in Tioga County (population a bit over 46,000) where he garners enough support to potentially remain in office for a very long time.

He claims to have all this scientific data and research, yet has failed to produce even one study during the debate on Senate Bill 3, the Medical Cannabis Act.

He utterly ignores the fact that 23 states have legalized some form of medical marijuana already, and all without attendant horror stories of death and mayhem.

Even more amazing, he ignores the fact that the United States government itself actually provides medical marijuana for a small number of patients. That’s right, Uncle Sam is dealing the Devil’s Lettuce in the form of tin cans of perfectly rolled joints.

This is the same government that keeps marijuana listed on the Schedule 1 narcotics list, though we are starting to see a change of attitudes on that among politicians and law enforcement professionals.

And still Mr. Baker, who chairs the House Health Committee, refuses to focus on what is happening in the world around, before his very eyes. He instead chooses to focus on the fear of “what if?”, and perhaps the fear of losing his office.

Or maybe, just maybe, he fears losing a rather large portion of his donors, which for some reason include a large number of pharmaceutical firms. This would not be odd if these companies had offices or manufacturing facilities located in Tioga county, but they don’t. Why would they even donate to a campaign whose outcome has no actual effect on their business?

He certainly has no difficulty ignoring the fact that several of his contributors are facing penalties and fines for selling drugs for uses which are unapproved by the FDA:

“It is amazing when you consider the strong opposition of the expert medical and scientific community that appeared to be ignored (and) the only drugs that should be allowed in the Commonwealth are those that are authorized through the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s approval process. —  Rep. Matthew Baker

How can one explain his unwillingness to produce these reports of strong opposition and why pharmaceutical companies would be concerned about the election outcomes in a very small county in Pennsylvania?

Oh, wait. He chairs that committee. Let’s give him money.

Actually, I am reminded of the scene from Blazing Saddles, when Hedley Lamarr (Harvey Korman) says, “But, where could we find such a man? And why am I talking to you?” “You” being, WE, the people.

Do you have any idea how tired I and others are of reminding Mr. Baker that 88% of the people in Pennsylvania approve of medical marijuana legalization?  Apparently, a large part of that other 12 percent live in Tioga County, which must be populated by folks who would rather let children die than see their beloved representative lose his corporate donor base.

Why is it even legal for a corporation with no address in Tioga County, Pennsylvania, to donate in what is, by definition, a local election?  I find it hard to believe they do it because they call it home… in their hearts, anyway.

How would you feel if, say, 10 doctors agreed on a potentially life saving medicine for you, or heaven forbid, your child, but a single politician, backed by money from a bunch of companies with no viable alternative to offer (I know, they’re working on it, so just suffer till they work it out), is able to tell your doctors, “No, let your patient die.”

Does any of this make sense to you?

It makes sense to Matthew Baker. He seemingly has no problem (or compassion) saying ‘no’ when a weeping mother stands before him, telling a true story of how this medicine can save her child. He’d rather protect imaginary children than real, living breathing children.

Or maybe it’s even simpler than that. Maybe he’d rather have the money.

Scott Gacek at The Daily Chronic has written an excellent piece detailing the campaign contributors Mr. Baker actually represents. He has quoted myself and others in the fight to legalize marijuana about Matt Baker and about new strategies we need to explore.

Frankly, having participated in this ongoing debate for years, including testifying in Harrisburg, I am starting to wonder if Mr. Baker is delusional and in need of some medication from his supporters.

Or at the very least, the man seems to be in need of an enema, and fortunately, he won’t need a prescription for that.

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Patrick NightingaleMedical Marijuana: A Brand New Battle in Pennsylvania
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Dear “Frustrated Friend”. Improved medicinal bill may pass after all.

sentencing guidelinesDear FF,

I apologize for my delayed response, but I have been involved in a homicide case, so it’s been difficult to find the time.

Ironically, the delay has actually been helpful as I have some good news for you.

The original senate bill was, as you say, gutted. Many medical conditions were removed, and believe me, we in the legalization movement understand your frustration.

The good news is, many of those conditions that were removed, including Chronic pain, Crohn’s Disease and  diabetes, have been added back in medical Cannabis Act– Senate Bill 3– along with AIDS and HIV.

Delivery methods were also expanded. Vaporization has been included for patients with post-traumatic stress disorder, seizures and cancer. Nurse Practitioners will also be able to make recommendations for medical cannabis, under a physician’s supervision.

You’re correct about pharmaceutical companies, but that’s really nothing new. The people who need this medicine cannot wait, and I believe the politicians now realize this.

As for our Governor, don’t be confused. This isn’t something he can do on his own. He must wait for the State House and Senate to act, but he has consistently said he would sign the bill if passed. It looks like he may get his chance very soon.

Tell your friends that although full legalization is still in the future, it has become increasingly likely that Senate Bill 3 will pass this year, and Pennsylvanians will finally have the medicine they so desperately need.

And don’t be mad at the Republicans, as it is Republican State Senator Mike Folmer, Lebanon County, who introduced the bill.

Let’s hope he can convince the rest of his party of the need to put politics aside, and pass this humane legislation.

I wish I could write more, but I really must get back to this case.

Your support is greatly appreciated and be of good cheer. This Wednesday is the Senate vote, where SB3 passed once already, and the House will not be able to table the bill at the end of the current session, as they did last year. They’re most likely going to have to vote, and the results look promising.

 

 

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Patrick NightingaleDear “Frustrated Friend”. Improved medicinal bill may pass after all.
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DUI: Not Just Alcohol Anymore

pittsburgh criminal defense attorneyDriving Under the Influence, or “DUI” as it is commonly called, is almost always associated with drinking alcohol, and although it is the most common form of DUI, it is not the only one.

With the legalization of marijuana in many states, we are also seeing an increasing amount of people charged with DUI for smoking marijuana and operating a motor vehicle.  And not just is states where it’s legal, either.

Here in Pennsylvania, being caught in possession of a small amount of marijuana has become a trivial matter for the courts– unless the charge occurs while driving.

Possession of a small amount, in and of itself, is considered a trivial matter, and is usually reduced to a “Disorderly Conduct” charge with a fine and court costs as punishment. A “DC” can be expunged from a persons record, and in any case, looks better on a persons record than a drug charge.

Drug convictions can come back to haunt people in searching for employment or getting a state certification, and can be used against someone in a child custody hearing. The “wink and a nod” approach of reducing the charges in a minor pot bust is an implicit acknowledgment that marijuana use, although still illegal, is not typically dangerous or a threat to public safety– unless the person charged is driving when it happens.

It is even worse if the person has a previous history of DUI for drinking as well. Even though there is no alcohol involved in a pot bust, a second DUI can be devastating to a person’s ability to earn a living and includes very stiff penalties, often including some time in jail. That’s a far cry from a disorderly conduct.

A third form of DUI is now increasingly being seen in courtrooms, that has nothing to do with illegal drugs or too much to drink. In many ways, it’s even scarier, because those charged literally think they are not breaking the law.

Many clients I have had for DUI cases say the same thing: “I wish I hadn’t had that last drink”. They recognize they acted irresponsibly in drinking alcohol and driving. They understand it was a bad decision they themselves made.

But what if they were simply following doctor’s orders?

Prescription drugs are increasingly showing up in DUI cases, and I don’t mean the Valiums or Quaalude (does anyone even do Quaalude anymore?). It’s not about otherwise ‘legal’ drugs someone illegally buys from the neighborhood drug dealer, either.

These are drugs legally prescribed by a physician. People feel that since it is ‘medicine’, prescribed by a doctor, there is nothing illegal happening, but that goes out the window when operating a motor vehicle.

“Do not operate heavy machinery while taking this prescription” does not just mean you can’t use a bulldozer today. An automobile qualifies as operating heavy machinery.

In fact, an automobile is over a ton of metal that can easily become a weapon in the wrong hands. If someone dies as a result of a DUI, it is not much different than shooting them. Even accidental shootings often result in criminal charges of neglect. It is the same for your car. If you use your gun or your car to intentionally kill someone, you will be charged with murder. If you do so unintentionally, you can still face severe charges such as manslaughter.

Perhaps Doctors need to be more explicit in making certain patients to whom they prescribe these medications understand the implications of taking a particular medication, and the legal liability of making irresponsible decisions when taking them. Maybe the warning labels should be more explicit and include a warning that driving a car while taking this medication can result in criminal charges, even if no one is injured.

As we approach the Memorial Day weekend, a holiday known for imbibing, lets all remember to practice some good old fashioned common sense and be aware that drinking and driving can lead to horrendous consequences.

Hopefully, doctors who prescribe these medications will begin doing the same for their patients.

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Patrick NightingaleDUI: Not Just Alcohol Anymore
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Teens and Pot: The Glamour of Crime

MarijuanaWe see it in our popular films and TV shows every day. There are websites that can make you famous for recording crimes you commit such as brutal assaults.

Shows like The Sopranos, Shameless and Breaking Bad portray crime (or just plain bad behavior) in a glamorous light.

Movies like Fast and Furious portray reckless driving as an adventure. To impressionable young minds, that’s exciting stuff; being bad and breaking the law.

What teenager doesn’t push the boundaries of the system? Some, more than others, to be sure, but testing boundaries and limits is a part of growing up. It is for many, a rite of passage in the literal sense that they are following in the footsteps of the older kids they once looked up to. The cool big sister or the tough big brother, whose exploits are legendary in the local arcade or city park.

Legalizing Marijuana removes that element from the equation of teens trying pot.

And the numbers bear this out. The fact is, in states where marijuana has been either decriminalized or legalized, teen use rates drop. For starters, in places where it’s legal, one can simply walk into a shop, provide age verification and make a purchase. The profit motive for street dealers no longer exists. The criminal aspect, the excitement of “the score”, no longer applies.

Addict after addict involved in hard drugs like Heroin or Meth, will confess that just the process of scoring illegal drugs is a high in itself. The danger of getting caught, the subterfuge of the transactions, the clever code words and cool phrases, can be a siren song of glory and street cred to the teenager looking to show they, too, are a grown up.

I see it all the time in court, often with tragic results. A young kid, often no more than a child themselves, getting caught up in the world of the illicit drug trade. The consequences to that person can be life long, and even worse, life ending.

But legal marijuana becomes… passe’ to the teenager simply looking for thrills. The teenager who sadly may be “preconditioned” to believe that crime is the way to prove themselves to their peers, will not get much props for a ‘drug’ that can be bought at a store down the street, openly and without shame.

Study after study shows that legalization, coupled with education and honest dialogue between parents, teachers and their kids, can work near miracles in reducing the incidences of teen crime. And not just marijuana related arrests. Crime rates overall tend to drop, because the violence and other criminal activity associated with drug dealing is eliminated from the equation when talking about marijuana, itself the most non-violent of all recreational substances.

Suddenly the dealer who also sells hard drugs, is no longer selling marijuana, and anyone buying marijuana will have a far lesser risk of being exposed to those harder drugs as a result. In that sense, all drugs are gateway drugs, but marijuana simply does not have to be one of them. It’s illegal status is the only real, provable causation for access to harder drugs, and the curiosity to try them.

If a teen tries pot, and finds out they were lied to about it being the devils weed from hell itself, they will no longer believe what you tell them about truly dangerous drugs like Heroin. “Hey pot wasn’t near as bad as they said it was, heroin must be okay, too.”

The vast majority of marijuana smokers have never even felt the desire to experiment with drugs like heroin. Anti-marijuana folks want to claim that smoking marijuana in itself leads to other drug use, but the statistics simply do not bear that out at all. In fact, in the case of alcohol use, marijuana legalization seems to have the opposite effect, as studies now show in legal states like Colorado, alcohol use actually drops and is instead replaced by marijuana, as opposed to combining the two.

There are burdens of proof in any legal case, and by those standards, the anti-marijuana folks do not have a leg to stand on. Research overwhelmingly shows the effects of marijuana use to be minimal in the extreme. As for being “dangerous” and a potential cause of death, as tired as you might be of hearing it, I’m just as tired of having to say it: Alcohol and tobacco, both legal, killed more people in the past six months than marijuana has in the past 200 years.

But what about the children?

Yes, the children are very important. I know because I have 3 of them living in my home, and rest assured, none of them will be trying pot before they are 21– whether or not it’s legalized. You see, I talk to my kids. I want them to have as much information as possible, because I imagine one day they will be old enough to drink alcohol, so like it or not, when they turn 21, I can only hope the lessons my wife and I teach them will keep them from abusing alcohol.

I also imagine that they will have moments when they have to make a decision to try alcohol (or pot) for the first time, whether or not they are legally old enough to do so.

By removing the glamour, the decision becomes a heck of a lot easier for them. They will not feel the level of peer pressure than can come with, “What’s the matter, are you chicken?”

They will feel confident saying, “No thank you”, because they are aware of the facts, and can make a sound decision without being the uncool kid. And let’s face it, there are grandmothers smoking marijuana these days. It’s kind of hard to make a case for pot smoking being, over the top cool, when Nana can pick up some Purple Haze at the local pot store.

Now of course the case of edibles has been brought up. “It’s candy! Kids love candy!”

*sigh*

That problem is as easy to solve as regulated packaging. They do it now with advertising cigarettes.

Remember Joe Camel?

If you really want to save the teenagers, maybe we should stop disrupting their lives by arresting their parents and older siblings for smoking a little weed? And just like Colorado, put that tax revenue to work educating them, instead of setting them up for incarceration.

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Patrick NightingaleTeens and Pot: The Glamour of Crime
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