Lancaster green lights marijuana decriminalization

LANCASTER, Pa. (WHTM) - Harrisburg has done it, so has York. Now, Lancaster has become the third Midstate city to decriminalize marijuana.

A new ordinance passed in a 6-1 vote Tuesday says people found with a small amount of marijuana would be fined $25 for the first and second offense and $50 for the third.

If they are found using marijuana, the fine is $75 for the first offense and $100 for the second. The fines can be replaced with a day's worth of community service. 

The only holdout was councilwoman Janet Diaz. 

"Anybody at $25 can say, 'Well, it's just a slap on the wrist, I can pay this,' if they can afford to buy any type of marijuana or other drugs. That's what my concern is," said Diaz. 

She also has concerns about an offender's option to replace their citation with a day's work of community service. Community service can be done for four hours for possession or paraphernalia and eight hours for public use. 

"To actually only give four hours of service when they're actually going out there and, you know, endangering children," said Diaz. 

Everyone else who spoke during the council meeting, including a Lancaster resource officer, was for the ordinance. 

"Just the simple use of marijuana is not the same thing as behaving irresponsibly, just the same way that there are people who behave irresponsibly with alcohol," councilor Ismail Smith Wade-El said.

"Cannabis is not known to cause crime. In states that have legalized it, like Colorado and Washington, the data is in and there's no big increase in crime," said Les Stark, executive director of Keystone Cannabis Coalition.

The ordinance will compile data on who was arrested and who received citations. Officers may only use the citations three times in a five-year period. Then, they must rely on state law. 

"I think we're doing a good thing either way, but we don't want a situation where Caucasian teenagers are just getting a slap on the wrist and African American and Latino teenagers are more regularly being charged with the state charge," said Smith Wade-El. 

The report for who and how many people are being arrested is supposed to come out annually, but council members requested the first batch of data be compiled in the first six months.

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