PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – Pittsburgh City Council heard what residents think about a measure that would decriminalize people found with small amounts of marijuana or hashish.
A couple hundred supporters of Councilman Daniel Lavelle’s bill to de-criminalize small amounts of marijuana crowded into Pittsburgh city council chambers on Tuesday.
“Every year 900 people are charged with possession of a small amount of marijuana,” testified Patrick Nightingale, local director of the National Organization for Reform of Marijuana Laws.
That has the effect of turning them into criminals and creating an arrest record that keeps them from getting jobs, said college graduate Philip Francischelli of Allison Park.
“Most places won’t even offer me a position because I have a misdemeanor drug possession charge from 2006,” said Francischelli.
Other speakers noted that young blacks were particularly vulnerable.
“In the city of Pittsburgh alone, black youth are number one for drug arrests. This is despite no difference in usage to their white counterparts,” said Brandi Fisher of the Alliance for Police Accountability.
Others cited a similar law in Brooklyn that saved two million dollars.
“Instead of using these funds for arresting, prosecuting, sentencing, and incarcerating cannabis users, these limited funds were instead used to fight violent crime and provide housing assistance to low income families,” Larry Fein of Fox Chapel, formerly of Brooklyn, told city council members.
Under Lavelle’s bill, possession of small amounts of cannabis would be similar to a parking ticket with a $25 to $100 fine.
But here’s the problem for the city of Pittsburgh.
The city can decriminalize marijuana, but the fact is there’s still a state law which makes it a misdemeanor.
That means that police officers in the city can pick and choose which law to enforce against someone using marijuana.
“It’s possible but I don’t believe that will be the case,” Lavelle told KDKA political editor Jon Delano.
Lavelle says Police Chief Cameron McLay is committed to have his officers use the lesser civil penalty.
“Chief McLay was involved in the creation of this legislation and is fully supportive of this legislation and has told us it’s going to be a training issue for his officers and is committed to that training.”
City council is expected to approve the bill on Wednesday and Mayor Peduto says he will sign it.