The Delaware County Council has put off voting on an ordinance that would decriminalize possession, purchasing or smoking of small amounts of marijuana in public spaces.
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The Proposed Delaware County Council Ordinance
Just last month, the Delaware County Council proposed a measure that would decriminalize marijuana possession of an ounce. Moreover, it would allow police officers judgement on whether they want to issue a $50 civil fine for the purchase, possession or smoking of small amounts of marijuana.
Why Delaware County Council Paused on Marijuana Decriminalization Ordinance
Voting on the ordinance was meant to take place on Wednesday night but it was put off after some irregularities that would have defeated its purpose.
Concerns Raised by Council Members on the Ordinance
As detailed by County Solicitor William F. Martin, council members raised concerns about the title of the ordinance as well as other minor technical issues.
The council expressed concern over the erroneous title because it includes the term ‘small amounts’. This could show up on cited individuals’ court records, thereby contravening the goal of eradicating the stigma surrounding marijuana arrests.
Changes Made in the Ordinance
Delaware County Council decided to change the title and use the words “minor public health violation’ instead.
In regards to the minor technical issues, the council included language that extends the civil penalty to possession of marijuana paraphernalia and clarified that the fine would apply to adults and minors.
Small Amounts of Marijuana Considered a Civil Matter Rather than a Criminal Offense
According to the ordinance, smoking, purchasing or in possession of small amounts of cannabis would no longer be termed a criminal offense, but rather a civil matter.
Therefore, anyone smoking, purchasing or in possession small amounts of marijuana will be charged with a civil fine of no more than $50.
In this way, the ordinance looks to promote greater efficiency in the criminal justice system which has faced opposition from the masses for decades.
Arrests under the Ordinance if it Passes
The ordinance specifies that only people caught with marijuana amounts of 30g or less. This translates to slightly more than 1 ounce, are eligible to get the civil fine.
Possession of any amount between one ounce and 175 grams is a misdemeanor. The maximum penalty is three months in jail and $575 in fines. Possessing between 175 and 1500 grams is a felony; the maximum prison sentence is three years.
It’s important to note that the marijuana decriminalization ordinance pertains only to private spaces. Anyone caught purchasing, possessing or smoking marijuana in a public library or any public, private or parochial elementary or secondary school would face criminal charges.
Consequences Of The Ordinance Title Change
Changing the title of the ordinance has inevitably moved its timeline much further along as Wednesday was its second countrywide reading. It is now a new ordinance with the title change with voting in two weeks.
Lt. Gov. John Fetterman Views on Marijuana Decriminalization
Pennsylvania lieutenant governor John Fetterman is a renown supporter of the legalization of recreational marijuana despite claiming that he doesn’t partake. He was present in Delaware’s previous public hearing of the ordinance earlier this month.
Fetterman said Delaware County could serve as a leader in moving the issue forward by passing the ordinance that would allow law enforcement officers the option to issue a citation for those possessing 30 grams or less of marijuana.
“Decriminalizing marijuana, in my experience after traveling all 67 counties across Pennsylvania, is a foregone conclusion,” Fetterman said, “We look to Delaware County as taking this first courageous step towards acknowledging decriminalizing the use of a plant, it’s what I think Pennsylvania wants and needs.”
Marijuana and People of Color
Fetterman also feels so passionately about decriminalization because of the impact that the illegality of cannabis poses on people of color.
“Removing that is also critical because it’s a racial bias towards these communities,” he said.
Delaware Marijuana Laws
Delaware allows the medicinal use of marijuana by patients suffering from a range of medical conditions.
Currently, recreational use of marijuana is not allowed in the Pennsylvania and possession is a misdemeanor that can result in 30 days in prison with a $500 fine.