North York solicitor shoots down anti-drug proposals


North York's borough council will not move forward on the pair of ideas it had been considering to combat drug use because the borough's solicitor decided there is no way to craft the ordinances that fits with state law.

Mayor Jerry Duncan, who originally had proposed the ideas, was disappointed but said the council would continue to think of ways to try to make selling and using drugs in the borough "as miserable as we're legally allowed to."

"Maybe if it's miserable enough, they will go somewhere else," he said during the council's meeting Tuesday night.

Duncan recounted a couple of stories about reported drug use in the borough, including police finding someone passed out in the middle of the borough park.

"It's frustrating to have parents call me and say they want to let their kids play in the park but can't" because of the level of drug use there, he said.

The proposals: Duncan had proposed that the council consider two ordinances in an effort to combat the drug problems. One would prevent stores in the borough from selling items such as rolling paper and glass pipes that can be used as drug paraphernalia, while the other would turn the entire borough into a "drug-free zone," which would draw on a state law that created areas of heightened punishment for drug-dealing offenses around schools and parks.

Neither of those laws would work, the solicitor found, because they would be superceding state, which decides which items can and can't be sold, and where drug-free zones are.

Local lawyers told the Dispatch much the same over the weekend, adding that even if the borough could make itself one big drug-free zone, the punishments that go with that designation have been ruled unconstitutional, so cases of drug dealing in such zones aren't treated any differently than any other cases of dealing.

The borough solicitor didn't attend the meeting, so council vice president Rick Shank conveyed his findings to the two dozen or so people in attendance. Like Duncan, Shank said the council will continue to try to come up with ways to battle drug use and dealing.

"Anything we can do to restrict drugs, we will do," he said.

Other ideas: The council passed a resolution to erect signs at the borough's entrances and "strategically" near schools, churches and the park declaring "Drug-free zone." The signs wouldn't have any legal weight, but the hope is to encourage residents to report drug use in the area, he said.

Shank and the mayor also talked about putting into the next borough newsletter facts about drug use in the borough and the fact that anyone can report it in a way that keeps his or her name out of the investigation. Duncan said after the meeting that the newsletter goes out to everyone in North York.

Council president Vivian Amspacher said North York will look into putting cameras in the park. There were some there a few years ago, she said, but someone broke them.

Authorities have frequently described the drug problem plaguing York County in recent years as "an epidemic."

"This isn't going away," Duncan said. "If you're not willing to take back the community, someone else will take it from you."

— Reach Sean Philip Cotter at