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Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Bills Would Reform Marijuana Laws, Reduce Costs

HARRISBURG – At a news conference in the state Capitol today, state Sen. Mike Stack discussed two new bills intended to reform marijuana laws to curb the unintended consequences that drain local budgets and waste law enforcement resources.

“Beyond the financial cost, our antiquated marijuana laws clog our criminal justice system and consume time that can be better spent arresting and prosecuting violent criminals,” Stack said in a news release sent to WESB. “Over the past 20 years, the number of marijuana arrests has exploded but the price of marijuana has dropped and the availability and potency has increased.”

Stack said he has introduced two bills: Senate Bill 1307 will reduce possession of less than an ounce of marijuana to a summary offense for the first two offenses and provide discretion to District Attorneys for third and subsequent offenses, and Senate Bill 1308 will make it easier for former offenders to find a job by making expungement easier.

“Increasingly, expungement is being seen by law enforcement officials as a valid tool in preventing crime by removing barriers to employment,” Stack said. “The permanent stain of a criminal conviction for a small amount of marijuana can prevent truly reformed young men and women from getting a good job and can push them back into a cycle of crime and punishment.”

The bills drew support from Philadelphia’s top law enforcement official and former DEP Secretary and gubernatorial candidate John Hanger.

“I firmly believe that possession of small amounts of marijuana should remain a crime because marijuana use has negative health consequences,” said District Attorney Seth Williams.

“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. These two principals are not mutually exclusive, and Senator Stack should be applauded for his work."

Stack said current marijuana laws have shown uneven and even discriminatory enforcement, noting that African Americans are six times as likely to be prosecuted for marijuana possession, despite similar rates of use among other races.

“These bills are not intended to be a commentary on the wisdom or health of marijuana use,” Stack said. “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.”

Hanger applauded the reform effort, calling the bills “a good commonsense proposal.”

“These bills are an important step in the right direction,” he said. “These are fiscally responsible bills and they will save taxpayers money.”

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