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Pittsburgh Potheads Could See Decriminalization in 2016

Pittsburgh could be the next Pennsylvania municipality to decriminalize the possession of marijuana.

On Tuesday, city councilman Daniel Lavelle submitted a piece of legislation aimed at shredding the criminal penalties attached to pot possession by replacing them with a small fine. The proposal would downgrade the offense, for anything less than 30 grams, to a civil infraction, which would be penalized with a maximum fine of $100 instead of a misdemeanor and a trip to jail.

However, local police would still have the authority to confiscate the weed.

“This bill helps to decrease the many lives destroyed by the unnecessarily harsh consequences that come with the most minor marijuana offenses,” Lavelle said in a statement. “The bill will help break the damning life-long consequences of unemployment, lack of education and being caught in a revolving criminal justice system.”

A similar measure was put into action in Philadelphia last year, with the city council and ultimately Mayor Michael Nutter siding with the elimination of criminal penalties for minor marijuana possession through a process of issuing $25 citations. Just a month after the ordinance took effect, reports showed that arrests for marijuana possession had decreased throughout the city by 78 percent.

“We might safely say Philly saved $627,000 in 60 days under the new decriminalization policy,” Philly.com reported. “That puts the city on track to save $3.75 million over the course of a year.”

Despite the almost immediate success of the ordinance, there seemed to be some conflict between the administration and the city police department before the law became official. Several months prior to the mayor’s signing of the bill, Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey said that his officers were going to “ignore the decriminalization.”

That summer, local police continued to arrest hundreds of people for minor possession. However, some of the latest statistics show that arrests for small time possession have diminished by more than half since the ordinance was given final approval.

Pittsburgh is hoping for similar results, minus the flack from the city police department, but it still too early to tell just how receptive the city council and Mayor Bill Peduto will be to this reform. A report from TRIB LIVE indicates that the mayor’s office is open to reviewing the measure but would not likely make a decision on the matter until after discussing the issue with Police Chief Cameron McLay.

Last year, Governor Tom Wolf said that he would support a bill to decriminalize marijuana possession across the entire state.

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