West York council rejects marijuana decriminalization

Jason Addy

After more than an hour of discussion between council members and the public Monday night, the West York Borough Council voted down a proposed ordinance to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana.

The ordinance, first proposed by West York Mayor Shawn Mauck in January, was intended to give borough police officers the latitude and discretion to fine, instead of arrest, individuals found in possession of or using less than 30 grams, or roughly an ounce, of marijuana.

(From left) West York solicitor Margaret Driscoll, public safety director Matt Millsaps and mayor Shawn Mauck prepare for a West York Borough Council meeting. Monday, June 5, 2017. Jason Addy photo.

The proposed ordinance failed to pass at Monday’s meeting by 4-3 vote.

Marijuana decriminalization in the pipeline for West York

Council president Mary Wagner and members Richard Stahle, Annette Christine and Nick Laughman voted against the proposal, while council vice president Brian Wilson and members Alan Vandersloot and Shelley Metzler voted to approve the measure.

The vote evoked a reaction bordering on disgust from supporters in the crowd, while many residents who showed up to voice their opposition to the proposal broke out in applause upon Wagner’s tie-breaking vote.

The ordinance the council rejected Monday would have allowed police officers to fine adults $250 for possession of 30 grams or less of marijuana or $350 for public use of up to 30 grams.

Though the council debated the merits of the ordinance in committee for the past several months, the ordinance that was voted down Tuesday was the same ordinance that Mauck provided as a sample in January.

West York committee to review marijuana proposal

“I find that a little puzzling because we’ve been talking about this for months,” Mauck said, calling Monday’s vote a “missed opportunity” to improve the borough’s bottom line while providing its police department with more flexibility to fulfill its role.

During the meeting, West York public safety director Matt Millsaps spoke about how officers in the past frequently cited those in possession of marijuana with disorderly conduct or confiscated it without pressing charges.

Several years ago, an individual charged with disorderly conduct for possessing marijuana successfully challenged the charges, and district judges in York County stopped accepting the practice, Millsaps said.

Despite not having another ordinance to cite under, Millsaps said he will continue to trust his officers’ discretion when dealing with cases involving small amounts of marijuana.

“I entrust my officers to responsibly make decisions about the things they encounter on the street,” Millsaps said after the vote, noting his officers may still write citations for disorderly conduct or simply confiscate the marijuana.

Rationale: Before and after the vote, Stahle explained his position on the ordinance, citing three main concerns.

As a West York resident, Stahle said he “doesn’t care if you smoke pot or not.” But as a West York councilman and father, Stahle said he was worried about the example he would be setting for children in the borough.

Stahle also said he thought the borough would be in a “gray” zone legally if the council passed an ordinance with lesser penalties for marijuana possession than state and federal laws. Stahle said he also had a problem with the borough calling 30 grams a “small amount” of marijuana, adding that 5 to 10 grams seemed appropriate.

Wagner said she has “no problem” with medicinal marijuana, but she said she was concerned that children wouldn’t learn anything if they just received a fine for using an illegal drug.

“They’re old enough to know right and wrong. They know it’s illegal — they shouldn’t be doing it,” Wagner said.

The proposed ordinance would have only applied to persons ages 18 and older.

Mauck voiced his disappointment after the vote, but he said he isn’t “waving the white flag” on the ordinance just yet.

Given that the ordinance failed to pass by a single vote and Stahle’s receptiveness to the ordinance with a few revisions, Mauck said he was optimistic that the ordinance could pass sometime in the future.

“I see that the door isn’t fully shut. I think there’s still a foot in the door,” Mauck said.

Over to York City: Just before the vote, Dan Massey, 45, made an impassioned plea to the council and residents to support the ordinance,

Massey, of Carlisle, told the council of marijuana’s potential to help those suffering from seizures and spoke of how marijuana products helped him during his fight with brain cancer.

After the vote, Massey said he was “extremely disappointed” and called it “a crime against humanity” for the council to keep people from freely self-medicating by rejecting the ordinance.

Massey said he believed the council voted down the ordinance because of a lack of education among council members about marijuana.

With Monday’s vote by the West York Borough Council not working in their favor, Massey and other decriminalization supporters are pinning their hopes on the York City Council, which was to consider a similar ordinance at its meeting Tuesday night.

York City Council open to marijuana decriminalization ordinance

Les Stark, executive director of the Keystone Cannabis Coalition, said he was “profoundly disappointed” by the West York council’s vote, which he believes was “based on misunderstandings and misinformation” about marijuana.

“To have this ordinance derailed by a vocal minority is disheartening,” Stark said, adding that “the loudest voices seem to be those opposed to any marijuana reform.”

Despite his disappointment Monday night, Stark said he expects the decriminalization ordinance before the York City Council to fare better because of city residents’ “tremendous support” for rallies his organization has held in the past.