Residents voice support for proposed marijuana ordinance in York City

Jason Addy

York City residents and other marijuana reform advocates showed strength in numbers at a city council meeting Tuesday night, sharing personal stories about why they support a proposed ordinance to reduce the penalties for possessing and using marijuana inside city limits.

Tina Charles told the council about how her life has changed since officers kicked down her door one morning in 2011 after receiving a tip about a marijuana-growing operation in her home.

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Charles admitted that her son, who had just turned 18, was trying to grow marijuana seeds in her attic. But after officers burst in, Charles said she and her husband took full responsibility to “save my son.”

Charles said she spent three weeks in jail before her family could post her $50,000 bail. Though she was eventually released, Charles said her family was unable to post her husband’s $100,000 bail, and he spent more than 11 months in prison on the charges before pleading guilty to a felony count.

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After falling behind on court-mandated payments following his release, her husband was arrested for violating the terms of his parole, Charles said.

He has since spent more than a year in prison on the violation connected to the initial marijuana charge and is due to be released toward the end of June, Charles said.

Despite the turmoil it has caused her family, Charles said she and her husband don’t regret the decision to take responsibility for the marijuana because the charges would have ruined their son’s future prospects.

Charles said her son is now a member of the National Guard and working as an apprentice at a local construction company, neither of which could have happened with a marijuana conviction on his record.

Though the proposed ordinance would not apply to those in Charles’ situation, Charles said she wanted to speak in support of the measure because she doesn’t want to see others lose educational and housing opportunities over marijuana.

“We have better uses for our police force,” Charles said.

Proposed ordinance: York City Councilwoman Judy Ritter-Dickson introduced an ordinance Tuesday that, if passed, would allow York City Police officers to cite adults found in possession of or using 30 grams or less of marijuana with a summary offense and fine them instead of arresting them.

Ritter-Dickson’s ordinance also applies to the use and possession of 8 grams or less of hashish, a product made from marijuana extracts.

The fine for a person’s first possession offense under Ritter-Dickson’s legislation would be set at $100. A second offense would bring a $250 fine, while a third offense would trigger a $350 fine.

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The fines for using small amounts of marijuana or hashish also rise significantly with each offense under the ordinance.

Under the proposal, fines for using marijuana or hashish in the city will start at $150 for the first offense before doubling to $300 for a second offense and $600 for a third offense, according to the proposal.

An adult who is found to be using or in possession of 30 grams or less of marijuana more than three times in a five-year span would be subject to criminal prosecution, according to the measure.

The proposed ordinance also indicates that, in dealing with a first offense, a judge can suspend the imposed fine and order an individual to perform up to nine hours of community service.

Ritter-Dickson said she was very pleased at the level of support for her proposal Tuesday and was excited to see residents speak out about an issue they care about.

“I think (the ordinance) works well for York City. At least it’s a start,” Ritter-Dickson said, noting that the ordinance will “take some burden” off parents and city residents until the state government decriminalizes or legalizes marijuana.

York City Council is expected to vote on the ordinance at its next meeting, July 18 at York City Hall. Many are expecting the measure to pass, with two council members voicing tentative support for the proposal.

Vocal support: Unlike at the West York Borough Council meeting Monday night, where several residents spoke against a similar ordinance and many others in the crowd made their opposition known, no one spoke out against Ritter-Dickson’s proposal at Tuesday’s York City Council meeting.

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York City resident Shane Coolbaugh told the council he fully supports the proposal because an allegation that he smoked marijuana derailed his education.

While he was in high school, a group of students posted online that Coolbaugh and his friends were smoking marijuana, Coolbaugh said, and the posts reached school administrators.

Coolbaugh said he was forced to finish high school at an “alternative school,” even though no marijuana was ever found on him.

“It can ruin your future,” Coolbaugh said. “I kind of got lost in that cycle of life — all over a plant.”

West York resident Mary Eckstine pointed to the fact that both the national capital, Washington, D.C., and the state capital, Harrisburg, have legalized and decriminalized marijuana, respectively, and she said she hoped York City would jump on the bandwagon.

“I would be proud to have my town, where I came from, step up to the plate with these other cities and counties,” Eckstine said. “I would be proud if York City was part of that.”

Eckstine said she has seen many of her friends pass away from overdoses of heroin and other opiates, but she said she suspects many of them would still be alive “if they weren’t scared of going to jail for smoking marijuana,” which can be more obvious than using other drugs.

Franklin Williams urged the council to put “real meaning” to the words that end the Pledge of Allegiance by passing the ordinance at its next meeting.

“‘With liberty and justice for all.’ You will have a chance in July to give real meaning to those words. I hope you will do that,” Williams said.