WARNING: The following story might make you angry.
An epileptic woman from Michigan visits a relative in Pennsylvania. She had moved to Michigan from Pennsylvania because medicinal cannabis was the only medicine that was working to alleviate her seizures. Her husband is her caregiver, and he uprooted his whole life to move his wife to a state where she could legally take medicine for a documented medical condition. That’s how much he believes in the efficacy of medicinal marijuana, based entirely on his own experience caring for an epileptic.
She has a medical card from her state of residency. She has a medical condition that qualifies for treatment under Pennsylvania’s Act 16. For her, in her mind, this is simply medicine. It’s no different– in her mind– than carrying a vial of prescription medication in her purse.
Unfortunately, her original arrest happened before Act 16 became a reality, in a county where they are not prone to cutting breaks for marijuana possession.
In Pittsburgh, a small amount possession charge is a ticket. No cuffs, no jail, no court appearance. A ticket. Pay the fine and it’s done.
In many of the rural counties surrounding Pittsburgh, a marijuana charge can be catastrophic. It can affect a person’s ability to get certain jobs. It can impact things like insurance rates and school loans. It often results in the loss of driving privileges. For a young person, it can ruin their life before it gets started.
In this instance, it’s penalizing someone for legally treating her legitimate medical condition, all because she’s in a different state in the same “One nation, under God”.
As was mentioned earlier, this was the original charge, but it gets worse.
Because the county elected to pursue this through the court system, as opposed to just reducing it to a disorderly conduct with a fine, they released her, but an appearance in court before a judge was required. This meant the woman had to travel from Michigan back to Pennsylvania, all over a simple possession charge.
Unfortunately this woman never received her court papers. She thought they had taken mercy and dropped the charges, and so she never appeared in court. It was an honest mistake resulting from either a clerical error or simply, a lost piece of mail.
Missing a court date is never good, and even in what began as a minor offense becomes magnified and can make an otherwise routine situation much worse. It opens a person up to additional charges, and will result in the issuance of a “Bench Warrant”.
A Bench Warrant does not offer any specifics as to what the person was charged with, so a police officer who discovers a warrant will treat any such situation as potentially life threatening. In this instance, the discovery of the warrant occurred in Ohio, where the woman had been pulled over in a traffic stop and she was once again found to possess marijuana. Ohio recently decriminalized marijuana, but because of the warrant, instead of getting a ticket and being sent on her way, she was arrested, taken to jail and held for over a week until she could be extradited back to Pennsylvania.
All because she had a small possession charge, even though she had a state issued medical card for treating epilepsy, which is recognized in Act 16 as a legitimate qualifying condition.
Fortunately the authorities have since realized this is a classic mountain out of a mole hill scenario and have released the woman to the care of her husband. But the story isn’t over. She still has to come back to Pennsylvania for another court date, retain an attorney, and spend even more money than she’s already spent.
What should have been a simple fine turned into a nightmare for this woman and her family that cost a lot of money for them and for the tax payers of Ohio and Pennsylvania.
All because of a minor marijuana possession charge.
Does this sound like justice to you?