At its penultimate regular meeting of 2015, Pittsburgh City Council on Monday passed a bill that decriminalizes small amounts of marijuana in the city. The vote was 7-2, with council members Darlene Harris and Theresa Kail-Smith voting against.
The legislation, introduced by Councilman Daniel Lavelle, gives Pittsburgh police officers the discretion to issue a civil fine up to $100 to people found in possession of 30 grams of marijuana or less, instead of charging them with a criminal misdemeanor offense. Modeled after a law passed in Philadelphia last October, the legislation is in keeping with a practice that prosecutors usually follow anyway, when they reduce misdemeanor marijuana possession to a summary citation.
But Harris said she voted no because she thought the council was overstepping its bounds. “It’s not legal for the city to try to enforce this legislation,” she said at the council meeting Monday morning, adding that she worried the city was opening itself up to a lawsuit.
According to Patrick Nightingale of NORML, the Pittsburgh ordinance is not preempted by state law, which prohibits possession of cannabis. The new Pittsburgh rule applies to small amounts of marijuana, but still imposes a civil fine and forfeiture for marijuana possession.
The legislation was advanced by Bloomfield-Garfield Corporation deputy director and great-grandmother Aggie Brose, and Patrick Nightingale, executive director of Pittsburgh NORML. After the meeting on Monday, Brose said she was pleased to see the legislation finally approved.
Her motivation to seek such a law in Pittsburgh came from her work with the BGC. A marijuana possession charge on a young person’s record can have devastating consequences, Brose says, and often it’s a matter of a youthful mistake.
“This is a very big deal,” Brose said on Monday. “We’re very pleased that the council listened to us.”
Mayor Bill Peduto is expected to sign the bill into law before the end of the year, spokesman Timothy McNulty says.
“The Mayor agrees with Council members, the District Attorney and many others that this is a common sense change that will help protect the futures of young people in our communities.”