York County law enforcement believe the legalization of marijuana in Pennsylvania could lead to problems, if the commonwealth would ever follow suit with states such as Colorado and Washington, which OK’d the recreational use of the drug during last week’s election.

The president’s administration has done little to crack down on the 17 states that allow people with certain medical conditions to use pot, something that is banned under federal law, according to the Associated Press.

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper asked for a federal response to the law passed during the election, but never got one, the AP reported.

If the law isn’t blocked, Colorado is expected to start commercial sales by 2014. Adults would then be able to possess up to an ounce of marijuana, and six marijuana plants, though public use of the drug and driving while intoxicated are prohibited.

In Washington state, marijuana possession of an ounce or less would become legal on Dec. 6 if the measure is not blocked, according to the Associated Press.

These changes on the West Coast are causing some concern for law enforcement in York County.

“A huge number of our . . . incidents or crimes involve drugs or alcohol,” said Southwestern Regional Police Chief Greg Bean. “To say a drug should be more accessible just goes against everything that we believe in because it will cause more issues.”

Bean said taking marijuana cases to court has not been a “huge burden” for his department.

“What is a huge burden is intoxicated people in public,” he said. “I guess what happens behind your doors on some occasions is considered not a problem, but as soon as it comes into front yards, roadways, public areas — that’s when it does become a problem.”

Bean added that nearly every incident they respond to — whether domestic, a car accident or theft — involves someone using drugs or alcohol.

“The intoxicated person is a huge burden on our system,” he said. “It’s hard for me to support that one.”

Chief Tom Hyers of Springettsbury Township Police agreed that drug use has “devastated the lives of families.”

As part of the county’s Drug Task Force, Hyers said his department doesn’t see a “prolific problem” with the use of marijuana, but “it’s everywhere.”

“I think that you’re seeing some departments in the United States start to more or less decriminalize it,” Hyers said. “But that’s not for us to decide. That’s for politicians. The laws are the rule of the people and I’ll enforce those the best I can.”

But some in the community think it’s good that things are changing.

Adam Jones, a Hanover native now living in California, had previously organized Hemp Fest in Spring Grove.

“Anytime we can see less fear regarding marijuana and more knowledge, that’s a good thing,” Jones said.

There’s a lot of misinformation about marijuana being a gateway drug for heroin or cocaine, Jones said. If the state takes over the sale of pot, it takes away the possibility of someone being offered a harder drug by a dealer, he added.

After organizing Hemp Fest, Jones said, it was obvious people were confused about the difference between hemp — a textile product used to make clothes and other items — and marijuana, and the uses for both.

Jones sees the benefits in each one and thinks a lot of people will begin to jump on board with legalizing marijuana in Pennsylvania.

Cost of marijuana in York County

According to Lt. Tim Utley, head of the detective division for York City Police, there are many different kinds of marijuana that his drug detectives come across.

An ounce of average marijuana can cost anywhere from $120 to $150. A higher-quality weed can cost $180 to $400 an ounce depending on the level of dealer and his or her accessibility to the product.

A pound can cost anywhere from $1,000 to $1,500, with the more expensive weed costing $4,000 to $5,000 a pound.

Typically, people purchase nickel bags, which cost about $5, for their personal use, Utley said.

If someone is caught with more than two pounds, but less than 10 pounds of marijuana, they face one year in state prison, he said. If they are caught with more than 10 pounds, it is a two year state prison sentence.

Those are the state’s mandatory sentences regarding weight, Utley said. The penalties could be higher when considering someone’s criminal background or if the crime is committed in a school zone.

Marijuana penalties

Possession of marijuana penalties in Pennsylvania are as follows:

For 30 grams or less, you are facing misdemeanor charges of up to 30 days in jail, and a fine of $500.

For possession of more than 30 grams, the penalties go up to one year in jail, $5,000 in fines and an automatic six month loss of your driver’s license.

If you are a first time marijuana offender, it is possible to get probation without a verdict. For second offense possession charges, or multiple subsequent offenses, the penalties can double.

If you have more than 30 grams of marijuana, you run the risk of being charged with possession with intent to deliver or distribute.

Possession of drug paraphernalia, or selling/distributing marijuana

Up to 1 year in jail and/or a fine of up to $2,500. For selling to a minor it can be a felony charge of up to two years in jail and a $5,000 fine.
– Source: Crimes Code of Pennsylvania

@ralefever; 771-2088

Also of interest

Cops about marijuana in York, Pa. in 1933: ‘Avoid its use as you would deadly poison’

National Guard helicopter aids in spotting marijuana plants.