After training, York City Police issue more marijuana citations

Marijuana decriminalization graphic. Photo Illustration by John A. Pavoncello

In the first six months that a marijuana ordinance was in place in York City, officers only filed one citation.

Now, six months after training, officers have filed more than two dozen citations.

York City Police Chief Troy Bankert said earlier this year that a gap in training was the reason why citations were not filed in that first six-month period. 

After two months of research, Bankert said the department trained officers on the ordinance. In the six months since May 2018, Bankert said there have been 27 citations filed.

"I'm pleased with the results," he said Thursday, May 15.

Ordinance: In the summer of 2017,  York City became the fifth Pennsylvania municipality to decriminalize marijuana possession, which gave officers the option of writing tickets for the offense rather than filing criminal charges. 

From August 2017 until February, officers only filed one citation for marijuana possession, the York Dispatch discovered through a Right-to-Know Law request.

Some officers were not trained and were uncomfortable using the ordinance, which allows them to cite people for up to 30 grams of marijuana, the chief said at the time. Thirty grams is about an ounce.

York City Police Chief Troy Bankert speaks during a police ceremony at York City Hall Monday, June 11, 2018. Bankert was named during the ceremony. Bill Kalina photo

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In the past six months, the department has not filed any misdemeanor charges for possessing marijuana as the lead offense, according to Bankert.

Those charges were still filed, however, if they were in conjunction with other charges. Bankert has said the ordinance is not used when there are other charges. 

Training: Bankert said officers had not been trained on the ordinance to the extent they were trained in May.

One of the questions some of the officers had, he said, was if they could search someone if they were found smoking a small amount of marijuana.

Bankert said it wasn't clear if officers were able to search someone and still utilize the ordinance, but he said after researching, it was determined that officers could do that.

"Everybody got it," he said of the training.

The chief said the training addressed questions officers had.

"They just want to know what's expected of them," he said.

Bankert said officers knew of the ordinance, but it was not properly explained. 

"We had to make some clarifications," he said.

Mayor Michael Helfrich, who was city council president at the time the ordinance was passed and supported it, said he was glad the issues were worked out.

"I'm comfortable with the path that we are on," he said.

From left, York City Mayor Michael Helfrich, York City Police Chief Troy Bankert and Bankert's wife Mary pose for a photo during a police ceremony at York City Hall Monday, June 11, 2018. Bankert was officially promoted to chief during the event. Bill Kalina photo

Helfrich had previously said city officials would re-evaluate the day-to-day workings of the ordinance. On Monday, Nov. 19, he said nothing in the ordinance was changed.

The mayor said the issue with the ordinance was implementation of it.

Helfrich noted that the ordinance does not take away penalties for marijuana possession.

Background: Then-Mayor Kim Bracey signed the ordinance into law in late July 2017, and it took effect 30 days later.

The ordinance gives officers the option of issuing summary citations, akin to a traffic ticket, instead of arresting them for possessing or publicly using up to 30 grams of marijuana or 8 grams of hashish.

A first offense for possession carries a $100 fine, a second offense will draw a $250 fine, and a third offense will bring a $500 fine.

The fines for using marijuana or hashish in public start at $150 for a first offense, with fines rising to $300 for a second offense and $600 for a third offense, according to the new regulation.

After three offenses in a five-year span, all further offenses will be treated as criminal infractions under the new ordinance.

York City's decriminalization ordinance represents a mix of elements in the other municipalities' ordinances, but its rising scale of fines is unique in Pennsylvania.

— Reach Christopher Dornblaser at or on Twitter at @YDDornblaser.