Local lawmakers in Steelton, Pennsylvania will consider a plan to decriminalize possession of small amounts of cannabis at a special meeting of the borough council held on Tuesday evening. And in a move not common with similar proposals in other jurisdictions, the idea has the support of the local chief of police.
Under the proposal, possession of less than 30 grams of cannabis would no longer be considered a criminal offense for first-time offenders. Instead, they would be charged with a summary offense and issued a fine of $25 to $100. Subsequent offenses would be subject to misdemeanor charges.
Steelton Chief of Police Anthony Minium told High Times in a telephone interview that he supports the decriminalization proposal as a matter of justice. He said that he has seen in his personal law enforcement experience people, ususally members of minority communities, who are treated harshly for possessing cannabis while more affluent people who commit more serious offenses “were getting a break because they can afford a high power attorney.”
“I figured it was time for somebody to take a stand and say ‘hey, let’s even the playing field,’” Minium said.
Minium told local media that decriminalization would allow police and prosecutors to focus on more serious crime.
“We are bogging down the criminal justice system right now with marijuana charges,” said Minium. “And I think a lot of times if we can just do a summary offense on that then that’s a quick easy way in and out of the system but still holding people accountable for their actions.”
Chief Rejects Marijuana Myths
The chief clearly demonstrated that he has researched cannabis and has rejected prevailing misconceptions and propaganda.
“Marijuana is not this horrible drug that it’s claimed to be,” Minium said. “First of all, it’s not a gateway like they claim, that’s not a fact.”
Minium is also aware of the racial motivations and justification for the criminalization of cannabis and said that is time for reform.
“It’s kind of like the modern-day Prohibition,” said Minium. “There’s a lot of people that smoke it who are in high-powered positions. They go to work every day. There’s medical benefit to it. Why wouldn’t we make this step to make it legal?”
Minium believes that there is a good chance that the borough council will approve the decriminalization bid, saying that “I think we do have a majority.” The proposal to decriminalize cannabis is also supported by Steelton Mayor Maria Marcinko.
“We are always trying to do cutting edge things and I believe this will be a good thing,” said Marcinko. “The community and the surrounding community sees we are progressive and we are serious about moving forward on hot button topics.”
Minium also noted that the council will also be considering another proposal that goes beyond decriminalization.
“We’re also looking at the legalization of it in the borough itself. But that’s going to take a little bit more of an argument, and again I support that as well. That doesn’t allow you to walk down Front Street or drive a car under the influence. What it allows you to do, in your own private home, is not have the fear of us kicking in the door for a small joint.”
Police Support for Cannabis Reform Growing
Diane Goldstein, the board chair of nonprofit criminal justice reform group the Law Enforcement Action Partnership, said that law enforcement leaders are slowly beginning to recognize the benefits of eliminating the prohibition of marijuana. A retired lieutenant with the Redondo Beach Police Department in California, she said that she would rather see tax dollars spent on lab work to test rape kits instead of confiscated cannabis. Goldstein applauded Minium for standing up for the reform of cannabis laws.
“This is a incremental, smart step by this police chief who understands that the public has completely swung around on this issue and recognizes that if you’re in your house, in private, and you’re not out driving or committing crimes, it’s a waste of resources for his law enforcement agency to continue to go out and arrest and prosecute,” Goldstein told High Times.