Marijuana Decriminalization Ironed Out in Pittsburgh


Pittsburgh has been trying to amend its laws so that a marijuana possession charge would only register as a civil fine, meaning it would not show up as a misdemeanor on a person’s criminal record. The bill is similar to one that passed in Philadelphia. Marijuana decriminalization actually passed in Pittsburgh last December but citations have not been issued because Pittsburgh does not have an office equipped to process such citations. The bill went back to the council today to be amended to suit what the city of Pittsburgh is currently capable of offering.

Details of the Marijuana Decriminalization Amendment

Patrick Nightingale says advocates received 80% of what they wanted.

Under the new amended law, a person smoking or in possession of marijuana would be charged with violating a city ordinance that prohibits “certain defined conduct”. There will be no reference to “controlled substances” or marijuana. This kind of charge will be extremely hard for employers to find and should not in any way stop offenders from receiving future opportunities.

“What we were trying to do by calling it a civil offense is keep it out of that searchable docket,” says Patrick Nightingale, executive director of the Pittsburgh chapter of NORML. “It will appear on that docket, but it will say that you violated a Pittsburgh prohibition on certain conduct.”

Fines Issued by Police

Marijuana decriminalization in Pittsburgh is as close as it can possibly get at this time with police now being granted the ability to issue fines. For small amounts of marijuana (under 30 grams), a $25 fine will be issued. For smoking marijuana in public, a $100 fine will be handed out. A person’s record will be expunged after 5 years and defendants will not need to be fingerprinted or appear at a preliminary hearing. “Practically speaking, I’d say we got about 80 percent of what we wanted,” says Nightingale of the new changes.

“The Best We as a City Can Actually Do”

Councilman R. Daniel Lavelle sponsored the bill.

The ordinance was sponsored by Councilman R. Daniel Lavelle, who was happy with the changes, stating “this is the best we as a city can actually do.” Only two council members opposed the bill, Councilwoman Theresa Kail-Smith and Darlene Harris, stating that changes that are so close to marijuana decriminalization should be made by the state, not the city. But the council members felt these changes for the city were important.

Punishments Not Fitting the Crimes

These charges are believed to greatly improve city resources, getting rid of the strain on law enforcement and the criminal justice system as well as reducing the damage done to those who incur the minor offence. A misdemeanor on a person’s record could affect work, housing, and life opportunities, which the city believes is disproportionate to the crime.

Philadelphia saw a vast drop in marijuana related citations after it was decriminalized there in 2014. Pittsburgh is now hoping to go in this direction with Harrisburg now considering this path too. It seems that marijuana decriminalization is having a positive effect on many cities, decreasing crime while allowing city resources to be spent on more important things.


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