The Marijuana Diversion System, launched April 1, enables any person charged with possessing a smaller quantity to take a 3-hour educational class.

Berks County, PA —

In hopes of saving time and cash for every person involved, the Berks County district attorney’s workplace has launched a diversionary system for men and women caught with much less than an ounce of marijuana.

The Marijuana Diversion System enables any person charged with possessing a smaller quantity of marijuana to take a 3-hour educational class at the Council on Chemical Abuse to have the charge cleared from their record.

And considering the fact that anything will be resolved at the district judge level rather of in county court, participants will stay away from racking up hundreds of dollars in court charges though judges, attorneys and court employees will have additional time to devote to additional significant situations.

District Lawyer John T. Adams mentioned a system like this was lengthy overdue in Berks, specially considering the fact that his workplace has historically provided defendants $200 fines or placed them in the county’s Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition system for the offense.

These situations are a time suck,” he mentioned. “They are a time suck not only for this workplace but for the court. We’re bringing some efficiency to the court technique.”

Considering the fact that the system started April 1, Adams mentioned 105 folks have signed up to participate. He expects the system will aid divert additional than 300 situations a year. Lots of Berks judges and attorneys have applauded the initiative, calling it a tremendous asset to the neighborhood.

“Frankly, we never place folks in jail for getting a smaller quantity of marijuana,” Adams mentioned. “We never do it, we’re not going to do it and we require to get these matters resolved.”

The voluntary system is a cooperative work among Adams’ workplace and COCA. These who sign up will have 60 days to take the class, then have the charge dismissed at the preliminary hearing.

Participants will spend a $50 charge to COCA for the class and court charges. That is exactly where Adams mentioned defendants will see the greatest savings. When a case is sent to county court, a defendant’s tab can speedily add up to additional than $500 by way of orders and processing costs. A easy continuance request adds a $15 price to print the order.

Adams mentioned the system will also apply to possession of drug paraphernalia charges if associated to marijuana use. But the top rated prosecutor noted that if the marijuana charge is filed with additional significant offenses, which includes DUI and some summary violations, these charges will be prosecuted as usual.

If a defendant chooses not to participate, the charges will be handled as usual and sent to county court, exactly where Adams mentioned he will now be asking for a $500 fine as a penalty.

Adams mentioned he would have developed the system sooner, but he had been hoping some legislation would be passed to address these situations. He strongly supported and worked with state Rep. Barry Jozwiak, a Bern Township Republican, on the bill he introduced to lessen the offense to a summary violation, related to a website traffic violation. The bill did not attain the Senate prior to the session ended.

Like Jozwiak, Adams stressed this diversion system is not in any way supporting recreational use of pot.

“This is far from legalizing marijuana,” Adams mentioned. “This is having the situations processed effectively and throwing in the remedy portion.”

Strictly educational

COCA has held two educational classes for the system considering the fact that late April, and a total of 30 folks have completed the classes.

Stanley J. Papademetriou, COCA executive director, mentioned the course is not meant to be a scare tactic but focuses on factual data about marijuana, its physiological effects on the physique and substance-use issues. He mentioned they also go over health-related marijuana and the participants’ perceptions and thoughts about utilizing pot.

“This is not in any way, shape or kind counseling or remedy,” he mentioned. “It’s strictly educational.”

Participants take a test at the starting of the class and once again at the finish to aid COCA gauge what they have discovered. Papademetriou mentioned the 1st class was quite engaged and showed a marked enhance in expertise from when they came in.

He mentioned they nonetheless never know how several folks to anticipate, but the classes are made for 20 to 25, and they strategy to hold two or 3 a month with a weekday and Saturday solution.

Since COCA serves as the addiction resource for the county and aids coordinate several of Berks’ alcohol and drug solutions, Papademetriou mentioned it just created sense for them to be involved in this system.

“We’re in it mainly because we should really be the ones in it,” he mentioned. “I’m positive a year from now, (there) may be some tweaks to how we do it, but it really is fairly simple.”

President judge: No objections

President Judge Thomas G. Parisi mentioned the county court bench welcomes the work, noting that dealing with these forms of situations requires up time that could be improved made use of elsewhere.

“Hopefully, this system in reality will, one particular, divert some of the folks, but, two, also aid them get some help,” he mentioned. “Whether it really is productive in undertaking that, we shall see.”

Parisi mentioned there have been conversations for numerous years about how to improved manage situations involving a smaller quantity of marijuana, and he and other judges began granting defendants one particular-month ARD stints in these situations if they prepaid the charges.

He mentioned the quantity of function that goes into processing and resolving these situations alone will make a noticeable distinction and relieve judges’ workloads.

“There have not been any objections that I’ve heard,” Parisi mentioned.

Adams mentioned he met some resistance from the district judges at 1st, but he mentioned numerous adjustments had been created to alleviate issues.

Fleetwood District Judge Gail Greth, president of the district judges, did not respond to numerous requests for comment about the system.

“I think that we have worked out the components of the system to satisfy their desires, and I anticipate that they will be partners in having this achieved,” Adams mentioned.

Defense attorneys are large fans

Regional defense attorneys praised the system and are hopeful there will be additional developments like it at the county, state and federal levels.

Lawyer Daniel C. Nevins known as it a win-win for defendants and the judicial technique. He mentioned there will clearly be some bugs to function out, but general, the system will be a enormous advantage to the neighborhood.

“If this system keeps numerous hundred situations out of the court of prevalent pleas in any provided year, that will free of charge up attorneys and judges to concentrate higher interest on additional significant criminal situations,” he mentioned.

Lawyer Alan L. Sodomsky mentioned he was a large fan of the system and had numerous clientele sign up inside the 1st couple of weeks. He mentioned he’s noticed related applications in other counties that also incorporated possession of any quantity of marijuana and possession of other drugs as lengthy as it was a 1st offense and not opioids.

“Treatment is the improved route and the improved option,” he mentioned. “There are some additions that we could make to the system to make it improved.”

Lawyer Kevin Feeney mentioned Adams properly made use of his discretion in developing this, but he believes additional should really be performed by state and federal lawmakers.

“The charges and caseloads for the courts on crimes so several folks really feel are not a significant criminal act is crazy,” he mentioned.

Lawyer James M. Polyak mentioned he supports the system but finds it really hard to ignore the hypocrisy of the government’s stance on marijuana with the developing health-related marijuana sector.

“It’s somewhat disingenuous that the similar government that is prosecuting these defendants for possession of marijuana is now approving marijuana growers in Berks County, licensing dispensaries that distribute the marijuana locally, and for a charge, issuing identification cards to sufferers to use marijuana,” he mentioned.

How the Marijuana Diversion System operates

The Berks County district attorneys’ new system is for men and women charged with possession of smaller quantity of marijuana, which is defined as much less than 30 grams, or about 1 ounce.

To participate in the system:

A referral is initiated by the district judge assigned to the case at the preliminary arraignment.

The participant has 60 days to attend a 3-hour educational session supplied by the Council on Chemical Abuse.

A $50 charge need to be paid for the class along with any linked court charges.

COCA will notify the district judge when the course is completed, and the DA’s workplace will dismiss the case at the preliminary hearing. If there are additional significant offenses in the case nonetheless getting prosecuted, the prosecutor will withdraw the marijuana charge.

Drug paraphernalia charges are also eligible if they are associated to marijuana use.