Almost Out Of The Weeds? Council Moves On Partial Marijuana Decriminalization

Mar 22, 2016

City Council introduced a new bill that would decriminalize carrying up to 30 grams of marijuana.
Credit tanjila ahmed / Flickr

Possession of up to 30 grams of marijuana would be reduced from a civil offense to a summary offense under new legislation proposed to Pittsburgh City Council on Tuesday.

Fines for possessing or smoking a “small amount of marijuana" would remain at $25 and $100, respectively.

Sponsoring Councilman Daniel Lavelle said the hope is that a summary offense, which does not explicitly state that the fine was imposed for cannabis use, would have less of a negative impact than a civil offense when an offender is applying for jobs or seeking a new residence.

“Because the language says ‘pursuant to the conduct within the bill,’ but the vast majority [of employers] are not going to actually look through the content of the bill to see that it was an actual fine for having possessed marijuana,” Lavelle said.

Members of the public displayed an overwhelming response in favor of marijuana decriminalization during a hearing in December. Lavelle said the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police also supports the bill.

Lavelle's legislation would amend an earlier bill that passed through council but faced legal challenges due to possible conflicts with state law. The city can't totally decriminalize, he said, but it can lessen the impact of a minor charge. 

“What we’re doing is giving the police a different option on how to respond to marijuana usage,” Lavelle said. “Under state law and federal law, it is still a crime. What we’re doing is changing the penalty for that crime.”

Council is scheduled to take a preliminary vote on the bill March 30. Lavelle said he is confident a majority of members will endorse the legislation.