PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — At Pittsburgh City Council Tuesday, the clerk read into the record a bill, “providing for the assessment of a civil fine for the possession of small amounts of cannabis in the City of Pittsburgh.”
It was introduced in council and it would give city police the option of a civil fine rather than a criminal prosecution and record for possession of no more than 30 grams of marijuana.
On the campus of the University of Pittsburgh, sophomore Adam Leventry thought it was a good idea.
“I don’t think that people deserve to be punished with jail time for smoking marijuana,” he said.
Councilman Corey O’Connor, who introduced the bill on behalf of the sponsor, Councilman Daniel Lavelle, who is out on medical leave, agreed.
”If somebody makes a mistake, let’s leave it up to the officers, and the officers can still push for an extreme punishment, but with this ordinance, you won’t have to go to that route. You can get a citation,” he said.
Allegheny County District Attorney Steve Zappala sent a letter to Pittsburgh Police Chief Cameron McLay promising he’d work with the city if they adopt a similar law to the one passed in Philadelphia, also reducing certain marijuana crimes to civil penalties.
But council had mixed emotions about it, and about the message it sends.
Rev. Ricky Burgess supports the concept regarding penalties.
“But I do not, even in supporting this legislation, I do not in any way support either the sale or the consumption of marijuana at any time in any place and for any reason,” he said. “I do not want in any way, at any time for anyone to misunderstand my support of this to condone in any way the sale and the consumption of illegal drugs.”
Councilwoman Theresa Kail-Smith wondered if the city had any authority over other police agencies if they make a drug arrest in the city.
“We don’t know if people are stopped by a county police officer or a state police officer within the city limits, what legal actions they can take,” she said.
Council President Bruce Kraus said he was not originally a supporter.
“When first presented with it, I believed I would not be in favor or supportive of this legislation,” he said. “But through very careful deliberative conversation with people that are well informed, and very articulate on the matter, I have been persuaded.”
Councilman Dan Gilman said the move is a step in the right direction away from failed drug policies that clog the judicial system and punish those who need help.
“It hasn’t worked for the last 30 plus years in this country, it ain’t gonna work for the next 30 years,” Gilman said.
Council is expected to begin debating the issue in a few weeks.