The Pittsburgh City Council voted 7-2 Monday to decriminalize possession of marijuana in small amounts, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported. The legislation will give Pittsburgh police the option of issuing a $25 to $100 fine for those caught with 30 grams or less of marijuana or 8 or less grams of hashish, rather than forcing officers to charge violators with a misdemeanor.
Councilman Daniel Lavelle, who sponsored the bill, said the legislation is meant to “help break the damning lifelong consequences of unemployment, lack of education and being caught in a revolving criminal justice system.” Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto has already pledged to sign the bill.
“This is a common sense change that will help protect the future of young people in our communities,” mayoral spokesman Tim McNulty said. Philadelphia adopted similar legislation last year.
Opponents voiced their concerns about passing such legislation on a local rather than statewide scale, saying it could provoke confusion between city residents and police from nearby jurisdictions who won’t be governed by Pittsburgh’s bylaws.
“We have opened ourselves to many lawsuits by overstepping our bounds this year,” Councilwoman Darlene Harris said, arguing that drug laws should be under the purview of state officials instead. The city’s marijuana-reform advocates, however, have argued that local legislation is essential, since Republicans in the Pennsylvania Legislature have stalled state efforts to legalize use of medical marijuana and haven’t budged on their position.
Colorado, Washington, Alaska and Oregon, along with the District of Columbia, have legalized medical and recreational marijuana use, and 16 more states have passed various forms of decriminalization, according to the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.