Pittsburgh’s City Council voted today to decriminalize the possession of marijuana in small amounts.
The bill, which won by a vote of 7-2, will allow city police to issue fines up to $100 for people possessing less than 30 grams of marijuana, or 8 grams of hashish, instead of giving them a misdemeanor, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported.
The bill’s sponsor was Daniel Lavelle, who currently works as chair of the city’s Public Safety Committee.
After the winning vote, Lavelle told reporters that the bill will “help break the damning life-long consequences of unemployment, lack of education, and being caught in a revolving criminal justice system.”
Along with Lavelle, Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto has voiced his support of the new bill.
“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,” mayoral spokesman Tim McNulty told reporters at the Gazette.
Long time Pittsburgh marijuana activist Patrick Nightingale said that 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.”
Of course, not everyone in Pittsburgh is excited about the new developments.
Councilwoman Darlene Harris, who voted agains the bill along with Theresa Kail-Smith, voiced concerns that the move might overstep the city’s legal bounds, putting it into conflict with the state of Pennsylvania.
“We have opened ourselves to many lawsuits by overstepping our bounds this year,” she told the Gazette, alluding to today’s vote as well as earlier legislation over employee’s rights.
Harris’s concerns center on the fact that, despite the changes cities like Pittsburgh and Philadelphia are attempting to make, the state of Pennsylvania continues to outlaw cannabis.
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In November, state lawmakers stalled a bill to legalize medical marijuana, a move that many in the cannabis community saw as indicative of a deep-seated reluctance to change pot prohibition laws at the state level.
Activists like Nightingale acknowledge Harris’s concerns, but see the city’s move as a necessary step toward statewide legalization.
“We just don’t see any movement there,” he said, referring to the state’s refusal to legislate changes to pot prohibition laws.
“We need to be able to say that this is something that Pennsylvanians want, and to demonstrate that through local action.”