Sharpsburg officials are exploring the possibility of decriminalizing possession of marijuana and related paraphernalia.
Specifically: a small amount of cannabis in all its forms and types, as well as smoking in public places.
Mayor Brittany Reno cast the crucial vote at the council meeting Thursday night. The move allows the district to announce a decree to analyze the possibility of creating a pilot program to allow the use of such marijuana for a period of one year.
The purpose of the program is “to assess the social and economic benefits that can be gained through the decriminalization of crime”.
There have been concerns about spending dollars on an ad that may not pass and has a divided board.
“I don’t consider it a waste (of money),” Reno said.
The announcement was approved 4-3, with council members Carrie Tungarm, Kayla Portes and Jasso in favor of moving forward, along with Mayor Reno. Council President Adrian Lang, Vice President Karen Belarski Pasteur and Sarah Ishma declined to do so.
There was a 3-3 tie among council members, which required the mayor to vote, due to a vacancy when elected councilman Brian Kozara resigned before taking office. Cozara had been out of town and had not been sworn in at the January 3 reorganization meeting.
A small amount is defined by law as 30 grams or less of marijuana or eight grams or less of cannabis. This is defined in the Controlled Substances, Drugs, Devices, and Cosmetics Act of Pennsylvania. There are 28 grams in an ounce.
If the decree is formally adopted at the February 24 meeting, people caught possessing or smoking marijuana will still face consequences.
Penalties described in the proposed legislation include a $25 fine for anyone who owns marijuana or the paraphernalia, and a $100 fine for anyone caught smoking it.
The court may stop fines and summary infractions in lieu of community service, including four hours for possession and eight hours for smoking, according to the decree.
“The plus side is that there is no record of a criminal misdemeanor that would be on an individual’s criminal record,” Councilman John Gasso said by email after the meeting. If they cause trouble, they will probably leave with a small fine. This still puts discretion in the hands of the officers, but we temper the criminal aspect of it.”
He called marijuana a “harmless vice,” and believes the law will allow state lawmakers to know Sharpsburg’s position on the issue.
“Passage of this decree will send a message to Harrisburg that we support the legalization of marijuana in the Commonwealth,” he said. “If enough societies embrace that philosophy, maybe we can really get our fix.”
The priest said she opposes the decree for three reasons.
“No. 1, we are ignoring state law,” the Reverend said. “No. 2, we’re ignoring our chief, whom we pay and trust (to protect) this city. No. 3, we’re ignoring our officers, who have said they won’t enforce it because they are bound to enforce state law. So, how presumptuous are we to pass things on?”
Police Chief Thomas Stelitano said the law would be moot because marijuana remains illegal under state law.
“I don’t think that’s something we need in town at this time,” the police chief said.
He also noted that incidents involving marijuana in the town were minimal, and that he and his division had fought to keep the drug off the streets of Sharpsburg.
Ishman said decriminalizing marijuana should take place at the federal level, not at the local government. She also warned against using taxpayers’ money temporarily.
“I don’t like the idea of spending law money on something that only lasts one year,” Ishman said. I’m not sure it actually protects against prejudice, because it’s still a crime by the state. If you don’t, I don’t support it like that and at this time.”
Tungarm said she has not heard from many residents in support of the proposed law, and believes that announcing it will help generate public input.
“Announcing a decree is an essential function of a functioning democracy, transparent government,” she said. “If we’re going to sit here and pass meaningful legislation, I want the community to participate….make a motion to promulgate an ordinance that I think is the bottom line of our jobs. Period.”
Resident Kelly Strain was the only one who took the stage during the citizen commentary portion of the meeting to express her concerns about the proposed law.
She also cited state law, and four marijuana incidents that township police reported last year and questioned the need for the ordinance.
“These statistics show me that there is no problem in Sharpsburg without the police charging people with small amounts of marijuana,” Strain said. “Ordinances cost money. From what I’ve heard from these council meetings, it seems we don’t have the money to waste. Passage of this law may increase drug activity in the town.
Why take a chance when there was no problem in the first place? Please do not vote yes to announce this decree. Please wait until the state changes the law.”
State and College Efforts Related to Marijuana
a bipartisan bill This would allow those over the age of 21 to buy and use marijuana, and was introduced in the Pennsylvania legislature last February by state senator Dan Laughlin, R.E., and Sheriff Street, D.Phil.
The bill would also eliminate convictions of non-violent marijuana-related offences.
Existing medical marijuana dispensaries will be allowed to sell their products to the public, and new dispensaries will be licensed.
Marijuana legalization is expected to bring in more than $400 million in revenue for Pennsylvania, according to senators. It is not clear when this law will be implemented.
a Study University of Pittsburgh Released last year indicates that legalizing marijuana for recreational use could lead to fewer opioid-induced health emergencies and deaths from overdose.
The study’s lead author, Coleman Drake, said at the time that the research did not point to cannabis legalization as the “silver bullet” to halting the opioid epidemic, but that it might be “another arrow in shivers” for policymakers to combat the broader crisis.