71-Year-Old Republican Wants to Reduce Pa. Pot Penalties

State Rep. Barry Jozwiak is a former law enforcement officer and a Republican. But he says downgrading marijuana possession to a fine will save millions.

If you want to look at how the debate on marijuana has shifted, just look at state Rep. Barry J. Jozwiak.

Jozwiak served in the Navy. He was a Pennsylvania State Police trooper for 25 years. He is 71 years old. All of these are not demographics that are typically open to reductions in penalties for drug possession. And yet last week Jozwiak issued a sponsorship memorandum explaining how he would soon be introducing a bill that would lessen the penalties for weed possession in Pennsylvania.

While pot possession is basically just a $100 fine in the city of Philadelphia, statewide marijuana possession is an ungraded misdemeanor. That means it’s treated as a third-degree misdemeanor: The penalties can go as high as 30 days in jail and a $500 fine. PennDOT automatically suspends the drivers license of anyone convicted of marijuana possession. (A marijuana possession offense in Pennsylvania is possession up to 30 grams (a little over an ounce).

Jozwiak’s bill would change marijuana possession to a summary offense. A first or second offense would be a maximum $300 fine. A third offense would raise the fine up to $1,000. PennDOT would not suspend the licenses of people charged with marijuana possession until their third offense, and then only for six months.

“As a misdemeanor offense, the charge must be prosecuted by the local district attorney, in the local Court of Common Pleas,” Jozwiak writes in his memo. “This involves higher costs not just for prosecutors, but also for the court and for the defendant himself.”

Jozwiak represents parts of Berks County, including such fun place names as Tulpehocken, Ruscombmanor and Upper Tulpehocken. He says there were 632 misdemeanor marijuana possession cases in his county last year, which cost $1.5 million to prosecute and brought in $126,000 in fines.

“This bill will reduce the workload in the court system, save millions of dollars, and allow police to file citations at the local district justice level,” he writes. “Officers could now stay on duty, rather than be tied up in court for hours. This is a good economic decision.”