Marijuana decriminalization in the pipeline for West York

Jason Addy
  • West York Mayor Shawn Mauck is leading a push to decriminalize marijuana in the borough.
  • Mauck has drafted an ordinance giving West York police officers the discretion to fine individuals possessing small amounts of marijuana.
  • The ordinance must be introduced and passed by the West York Borough Council in order to take effect.
  • West York Borough Police Chief Matt Millsaps has shown support for the ordinance but is seeking input from community members.

Less than a week after a marijuana decriminalization ordinance was first mooted at a West York Borough Council meeting, a draft of the potential ordinance is written and ready for debate.

West York Mayor Shawn Mauck asked the council Jan. 9 to consider creating an ordinance that would give West York Borough Police officers the discretion to fine individuals found in possession of small amounts of marijuana.

West York Borough Patrolman Sean Hightman tests a sample of marijuana headed for destruction, Monday, Jan. 16, 2017. The borough is considering a decriminalization ordinance.  John A. Pavoncello photo

Mauck said he began drafting an ordinance Tuesday to help guide the council’s discussion. The draft is modeled on an ordinance passed by the State College Borough Council in August.

Like in State College, West York officers would have the option to cite individuals found in possession of 30 grams or less of marijuana under the borough’s ordinance and levy a $250 fine, instead arresting them under the state’s criminal code.

Individuals found using marijuana in a public place would be subject to a $350 fine under the borough ordinance, if it is passed, Mauck said.

An ordinance such as this would benefit the borough, the police department and the residents of West York, Mauck said, with the department’s resources being used more efficiently to provide a better level of service for taxpayers.

Not having to process arrest paperwork with each citation for possession of marijuana would save valuable time for the police department, Mauck said, while individuals’ lives wouldn’t be ruined by a criminal conviction on their record.

“This frees up law-enforcement officers to do more community service work and allows us to focus on stronger criminal activity. Also, it allows us to have some flexibility in the law so people’s lives aren’t destroyed," Mauck said. "We are filling up the judicial system, basically overloading it, where we could redirect those resources and focus on serious crime in our neighborhoods and our community."

West York Borough Police, Monday, January 16, 2017. John A. Pavoncello photo

Police support: West York Borough Police Chief Matt Millsaps said he is open to the ordinance, though he is still in the process of talking to residents and researching similar legislation.

Millsaps said he also plans to reach out to police departments in other places that have passed similar ordinances to better understand the pros and cons of marijuana decriminalization.

Along with State College, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia also have passed decriminalization ordinances in the last 18 months, though the fine for possession of small amounts of marijuana in the state’s two major cities is just $25.

York City officials uncertain on pot decriminalization

A decriminalization ordinance would still provide for culpability and sanctions against the individual while giving officers another tool to resolve cases that might be “a little more fair,” Millsaps said.

Millsaps said it is too early to know what his department’s policy would be for deciding whether to cite or arrest individuals, but he feels the ordinance would be directed toward nonviolent recreational users for their first offenses.

Millsaps said it also was too early for him to provide statistics on how much time and money the department spends on small marijuana arrests.

Millsaps was hired at the Jan. 9 council meeting as the public safety director for the borough and now serves as police chief and administrative chief of the borough’s fire department. Millsaps had served as acting police chief since the beginning of September.

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West York Borough Police officers regularly deal with persons in possession of marijuana, Millsaps said, and the department will save “a significant amount of time” by citing under the ordinance.

If passed, the ordinance would be “a mechanism that could free up officers” to maintain a police presence on the street and focus attention on other initiatives, Millsaps said.

The ordinance also could help to improve the relationship between the community and the police department by giving people a break under certain circumstances, Millsaps said.

“In my view, the police have an obligation not just to enforce but to educate the public,” Millsaps said. “We could still hold people responsible, yet educate them and give them a break.”

Mauck echoed Millsaps’ sentiments and said he feels the ordinance fits with the overall administrative approach the borough has taken in the last few months.

“We don’t want to just be an enforcement department,” Mauck said. “We want to be able to make a difference in the neighborhood and the community.”

Mauck said he is anxious for debate over the ordinance to begin and is hopeful the council takes up the issue at the next meeting in February.