Support for decriminalization grows in West York

Jason Addy
  • Officials in West York are looking into creating an ordinance that decriminalizes marijuana in the borough's limits.
  • The ordinance would give officers the option to fine, instead of arrest, individuals found with small amounts of marijuana.

The way Jayson Sheffer sees it, West York police officers have more important things to do than bust people for a little marijuana.

“I think it’s just a waste of resources,” the borough resident said this week. “We have a lot of bigger issues in the borough. We have a huge opiate problem right now, and I feel like we should be focusing our time on that, instead of wasting money to prosecute (small marijuana possession arrests).”

Sheffer supports a recently proposed borough ordinance to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana.

West York Mayor Shawn Mauck first floated the idea at the Jan. 9 borough council meeting and last week followed up by drafting the ordinance himself. The legislation would give police officers in the borough the discretion to fine individuals found in possession of 30 grams or less of marijuana, instead of arresting them.

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

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

Under the drafted ordinance, individuals found in possession of 30 grams or less of marijuana would be subject to a $250 fine, while those caught smoking marijuana in public would be subject to a $350 fine.

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

Sheffer said he felt the cost  was reasonable, as it saves the individual from potentially going to jail for a few days before paying a fine anyway.

The money collected from fines also could  be used to support other initiatives, he added.

“Any money that’s collected from the fines can be plugged back into the system for bigger concerns that we have,” Sheffer said. “I don’t think the price of the fine is really an issue. I’m just really against people being arrested, missing work, losing jobs, over simple possession.”

The ordinance also could  help repair the relationship between community members and the police department, Sheffer said, by “taking the fear” out of many of their interactions.

Jessica Ness, of West York, said she considers marijuana to be much like alcohol and agreed with Mauck and Sheffer that there are bigger problems for West York Borough Police officers to focus on.

West York’s push to decriminalize might  influence other municipalities to consider their own ordinances, Ness said.

“If we’re the first ones, other people might do it,” the 34-year-old said. “The state might see that and realize there are more important issues than marijuana.”

Marijuana decriminalization in the pipeline for West York

Ness said she is pleased that the West York Borough Police Department has hired several new officers and is trying to rehabilitate its image. Ness said she had an interaction with West York police in which an officer was "very disrespectful" and dismissive of her complaints, but Mauck said the department will be more community-oriented than enforcement-driven going forward.

Like Sheffer, Ness said the ordinance might mend some fences between residents and officers.

Sheffer and Ness both said they expect the ordinance to be passed by the borough council at some point. The ordinance is expected to be debated at the next council meeting in February.

Outside support: The ordinance in West York has drawn attention from across the region, with some York City residents also saying they support the measure.

Erin Spohn, 36, said she views marijuana on par with alcohol and feels possession should be decriminalized, at the very least.

“Too many people’s lives are being ruined by sending them to jail for something that I think should not really be a jailable offense,” Spohn said. “The idea that someone would end up going to jail over having a few beers or something, that’s how I feel when people end up going to jail over having a small amount of marijuana.”

York City officials uncertain on pot decriminalization

York City resident Charles Musser, 54, said he would support officers fining individuals for their first offenses and hoped the penalties would get stiffer with each citation. He said he was undecided at first, but the potential cost savings swayed him to support the ordinance.

“As long as the money goes back into the community,” Musser said. “I would support (the ordinance) as long as the money goes back into the borough.”