Pittsburgh City Council to consider marijuana decriminalization bill
November 17, 2015 12:13 AM
In a news release, Councilman Daniel Lavelle said the long war on drugs and criminalization of marijuana has “left behind many casualties,” particularly black men.
The New York Times
A proposed city ordinance would make it a fine, rather than a misdemeanor offense, for possession of less than 30 grams of marijuana.
By Robert Zullo / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
City Councilman Daniel Lavelle is scheduled to introduce legislation today that will allow city police to issue a fine instead of a misdemeanor summons for possession of less than 30 grams of marijuana or eight grams of hashish. The ordinance, which sets a civil fine of up to $100, allows officers to seize the drugs and means Pittsburgh will join a “growing trend of local municipalities enacting similar laws to protect its citizens,” Mr. Lavelle’s office said in a news release.
“Approximately 1,000 individuals are charged with a misdemeanor-level marijuana possessory offense in Pittsburgh annually,” the release says. “Almost all have the criminal charge reduced to a non-traffic summary citation at the first stage of criminal proceedings.”
Patrick Nightingale, a local criminal defense lawyer and executive director of the Pittsburgh chapter of NORML, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, which campaigns against cannabis prohibition, said his organization and the Bloomfield-Garfield Corporation had pushed the legislation to bring the city’s laws in compliance with the reality of marijuana prosecution in the city.
Similar legislation in Philadelphia drastically cut marijuana possession arrests, he said, adding that giving police the option of writing a ticket but still retaining the ability to file misdemeanor charges if circumstances warrant will reduce the time, paperwork and detrimental effects of a criminal charge without running afoul of state law.
“That’s based on reality,” he said, noting that the law has the support of the Police Bureau, the District Attorney’s Office and a majority of council members. “Our police don’t want to deal with this.”
Even misdemeanor offenses can cost people jobs, housing and leave them with a criminal record.
“They still have to be fingerprinted, they will still have their offense recorded in national database. They will still have a rap sheet,” he said.
Mr. Lavelle, who chairs the council’s Public Safety Committee, could not be reached for an interview Monday.
In a news release, though, he said the long war on drugs and criminalization of marijuana has “left behind many casualties,” particularly black men.
“This bill helps to decrease the many lives destroyed by the unnecessarily harsh consequences that come with the most minor marijuana offenses,” he said. “The bill will help break the damning life-long consequences of unemployment, lack of education, and being caught in a revolving criminal justice system.”
Robert Zullo: email@example.com or 412-263-3909. Twitter: @rczullo.
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