Harsher Penalties for Manufacturing a Controlled Substance than Simply Possessing the Same Quantity, Upheld By Pennsylvania Superior Court
Lancaster County Police were responding to a noise complaint when they found the defendant, Shawn Van Aulen, outside of his apartment with a bag of marijuana in his hand. The officers conducted a search of the defendant, finding a glass smoking device and a marijuana grinding device as well. Following the search, the officers requested, and were granted, permission to enter the apartment for the purpose of discussing the noise complaint with the remaining occupants. Upon entering the apartment, the officers found six or seven people in the living room. The officers were permitted to search the remainder of the apartment for any additional people present; the officers found two females in the defendant’s bedroom. In the closet of Van Aulen’s bedroom, the officers saw four marijuana plants, lights, and other paraphernalia used to grow marijuana. Van Aulen was arrested and charged with manufacture of marijuana, possession of marijuana, and possession of paraphernalia. He was convicted in a non-jury trial and sentenced to five-years of probation. Van Aulen then appealed to the Pennsylvania Superior Court on the issue of whether the legislature intended to include growing a small number of marijuana plants for personal use under the definition of “manufacture”.
Van Aulen relied on what he believed to be an inconsistent treatment of the offenses of possession of a small amount of marijuana versus manufacturing the same amount; possession of the amount Van Aulen was found to have would constitute a misdemeanor, punishable by a maximum of 30 days in jail and/or a $500 fine. Manufacturing the same amount of marijuana is considered a felony, punishable by up-to five-years of imprisonment and/or fines of $15,000. The Court used the Controlled Substance, Drug, Device, and Cosmetic Act (“CSDDCA”) to interpret the legislature’s meaning of “manufacture” under the law. The Act criminalizes “the production, preparation, propagation, compounding, conversion, or processing of a controlled substance”, and further defines “production” as “manufacturing, planting, cultivation, growing, or harvesting of a controlled substance”. The Act makes no reference to amount or quantity, or distinctions between controlled substances. The Court noted it was bound to follow a strict interpretation of the law. Further, the Court cited Commonwealth v. Burnsworth, a Pennsylvania Supreme Court case which ruled harsher penalties for manufacturing a controlled substance than simply possessing the substance were merited because it is a rational deterrent to increased production and sale of drugs. Based on the Court’s findings, the Court ruled that growing even a small amount of marijuana for personal consumption constitutes “manufacture” under the CSDDCA, meriting the harsher penalties. Van Aulen’s sentence was upheld.
Drug offenses are serious matters which involve serious penalties. If you have been charged with a drug offense, there are many defenses which may be available, including challenging the constitutionality of a police search. Contact a Philadelphia Criminal Defense Lawyer immediately, so that your situation can be assessed and a defense to your charges can be developed.