West York committee to review marijuana proposal

Jason Addy, 505-5437/@JasonAddyYD

During a three-hour meeting Monday night, the West York Borough Council debated a proposed ordinance to reduce the penalties for possessing small amounts of marijuana before sending it for consideration by the council’s governance committee.

In January, Mayor Shawn Mauck proposed an ordinance that would give West York Borough Police officers the discretion to cite and fine someone found in possession of 30 grams or less of marijuana instead of arresting them.

At the time, Mauck said possession should carry a $250 fine, while public use should carry a $350 fine, though the mayor suggested lowering those amounts to $50 and $100, respectively, at Monday’s meeting.

West York Borough Police Chief Matt Millsaps speaks about a potential ordinance to reduce the penalties of possessing small amounts of marijuana at a West York Borough Council meeting, Monday, Feb. 6. (Photo: Jason Addy)

Marijuana decriminalization in the pipeline for West York

Several community members spoke against the ordinance, receiving smatterings of applause from those attending the meeting.

Borough resident Ashley Stahle told the council she supports decriminalizing marijuana on a statewide level but worries about how many people will come to West York to sell marijuana and other drugs if the ordinance is passed.

West York Borough Police Chief Matt Millsaps told Stahle that the ordinance is meant to give his officers discretion to fine people in possession of small amounts of marijuana, but police will still be able to cite individuals with a misdemeanor charge and arrest them.

The ordinance is not meant to shield anyone trying to sell drugs in West York, Mauck said. The spirit of the ordinance is to ensure an 18-year-old student found in possession of marijuana can be held accountable but still remain a productive member of society rather than going to jail for up to 30 days, Mauck said.

Support for decriminalization grows in West York

Time and money: Millsaps, who also serves as administrative chief for the borough’s fire department, said West York Borough Police had encounters with about 450 people last year in which small amounts of marijuana were involved. In 63 of those cases, the person was arrested solely for possession of small amounts of marijuana, he said.

Millsaps estimated the borough spent between $40,000 and $50,000 in 2016 in prosecution costs on those cases, from transporting evidence to filing paperwork to appearing in court.

More importantly, Millsaps said, an officer is out of service for about two hours while processing an arrest for a small amount of marijuana.

“If I could take that two-hour time frame and reduce that down to 15-20 minutes, you guys would have officers ready to respond for more serious emergencies,” Millsaps said.

The ordinance will now move to the borough’s governance committee, chaired by Councilman Brian Wilson, who showed his support for the ordinance at Monday’s meeting.

Wilson asked the council to pass the ordinance as a “starting point” in order to force the state government to pass marijuana decriminalization or legalization legislation.

The governance committee will meet at 6 p.m. Monday, Wilson said, to discuss various aspects of the ordinance as well as a potential town-hall meeting for residents to voice their support or concerns.