On November 17, 2015, Public Safety Chair Councilman Daniel Lavelle will introduce an ordinance that will permit City of Pittsburgh Police to cite individuals found in possession of a “small amount” of marijuana under a local ordinance as opposed to charging them with misdemeanor level criminal offense. The Ordinance will create a civil fine of up to $100.00 for open possession of under 30 grams of marijuana or 8 grams of hashish. Officers are authorized to seize the suspected contraband and issue a civil fine similar to a parking ticket to individuals who are not engaged in any other criminal conduct.
Approximately 1000 individuals are charged with a misdemeanor level marijuana possessory offense in Pittsburgh annually. Almost all have the criminal charge reduced to a non-traffic summary citation at the first stage of criminal proceedings. Individuals charged with misdemeanor possession must be fingerprinted and risk loss of employment and housing, especially public housing. Despite similar usage between caucasians and African Americans, African American Pittsburghers are charged with minor marijuana possession offenses at a rate of 5 – 1 compared to their white counterparts.
Nationally, Pittsburgh joins a growing trend of local municipalities enacting similar laws to protect its citizens. In 2012 the City of Chicago moved to decriminalize small amounts allowing police to issue tickets instead of making an arrest. In 2014 Washington D.C. passed a similar ordinance providing for a $25.00 fine for possession of a small amount. Philadelphia’s decriminalization ordinance has resulted in an 80% reduction in custodial arrests for small amounts of marijuana.
“We are very excited that Pittsburgh will follow in the footsteps of Philadelphia and others across the country and embrace cannabis reform. Through the leadership of Public Safety Chair Daniel Lavelle and the Bloomfield Garfield Corporation Pittsburgh will no longer prioritize cannabis prosecution. Recreational and medicinal consumers in our great City can at least know that their police are not interested in arresting them and potentially ruining their lives over the possession of a simple, non-toxic plant.”