Pittsburgh decriminalizes possession of small amounts of marijuana
The Pittsburgh City Council voted Monday morning to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana within city limits. The council voted 7-2 in favor of a bill that allows police to levy a maximum fine of $100 against anyone possessing up to thirty grams of marijuana or eight grams of hashish. In the case of minors, parents or guardians will be notified of the offense and must pay the fine. Supporters of the bill say that it is better than charging suspects with a misdemeanor criminal offense, which can burden defendants by keeping them from finding gainful employment. It is also noted as a financial and time-consuming burden on taxpayers and police. Mayor Bill Peduto says that he will sign the bill. Pittsburgh’s leader of NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Law) says that this is a great step in the right direction and similar to a Philadelphia ordinance passed in 2014. According to the NORML advocate, the new law "will protect Pittsburghers of all colors and all ages from unwarranted and unnecessary police interactions, and it will help police more efficiently utilize limited resources." According to studies completed in 2013, African-Americans in Allegheny County are nearly six times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than white residents, regardless of the fact that the use of marijuana is consistent across racial groups. One of Pittsburgh’s councilmen and supporter of the bill said that even though he is against the use of marijuana, he thinks that young people who make mistakes should not suffer lifelong consequences for something that isn’t life-threatening. Penalties for drug offense are generally set by the state. The state’s authority often disqualifies local governments from passing their own ordinances. However, a Duquesne University School of Law professor said that Pittsburgh’s bill does not disassociate from state law because it can still leave cops the option of filing criminal charges. The D.A. has said that he supports the bill, but will be cautious in his approach to specific cases. In a letter earlier this year, he told Pittsburgh’s chief of police that he would attempt to accomplish what the mayor and city council would like to see done, noting that Philadelphia’s marijuana arrests have dropped 75% since it passed the bill. If you have been arrested for possession of marijuana, this new bill could change your life for the better; however, it is still unclear how those who wait to be indicted will be treated. If you have questions about a marijuana-related arrest, please call Pennsylvania drug charges attorney Gary Gerson today for a free preliminary consultation at 412-219-6875.