A person busted with or caught smoking a small amount of marijuana will no longer be handed a misdemeanor in Pittsburgh – but they will not walk away without a record, per an amended ordinance that went before Pittsburgh City Council on Monday.
“When we said you would have no record if you are cited under Pittsburgh city ordinance, that is no longer entirely true,” said Patrick Nightingale, a Pittsburgh attorney and marijuana reform activist.
Pittsburgh police would instead issue a summary citation punishable by fine of $100 for smoking ot $25 for possession of a small amount of marijuana. This would appear on a criminal record as violating “certain defined conduct,” the amendment states, rather than including words such as “marijuana” or “controlled substance.”
Summaries can be expunged in five years if the defendant is convicted and do not require the defendant to be fingerprinted or to appear at a preliminary hearing, Mr. Nightinghale said, adding, “Practically speaking, I’d say we got about 80 percent of what we wanted.”
Councilman R. Daniel Lavelle, the ordinance sponsor, said he’s pleased with its new iteration.
“This is the best that we as a city can actually do”, he said.
The updated version of the ordinance was scheduled to be presented to the council on Monday and it could be approved as soon as next Tuesday, after which the mayor would sign it. Mr. Lavelle said he would like to see the ordinance enforced “hopefully sooner than later” but could not provide a date.
Proponents say the bill formalizes local prosecutors’ practice of reducing misdemeanor marijuana possession to a summary and eliminates the the strain on the local criminal justice system that processing such cases impose, as well as wiping out collateral damage wrought on employment, housing and life opportunities by the relatively minor criminal conviction.
The ordinance originally allowed police to issue a “civil fine” unsearchable in criminal records; rather than a misdemeanor for possession of lest than 30 grams of marijuana or 8 grams of hashish, punishable in Pennsylvanian by a jail sentence of 30 days or a $500 fine.
However, Pittsburgh, unlike Philadelphia, cannot process such civil fines.
The Council approved the earlier version, 7-2, in December.
Theresa Kail-Smith and Darlene Harris, both councilwomen, opposed the proposal, arguing that these changes should be made at the state level. Ms. Harris voting against it said the city lacked the authority to pass the law.
Mr. Peduto approved it.
However, city police had not started enforcing the legislation by the beginning of March, at which point the mayor’s office said the police bureau and the city’s law enforcement department were looking for ways to do so.