York City Council expected to reduce marijuana penalties

Jason Addy
York Dispatch

With support from many residents, the York City Council is set to approve an ordinance Tuesday that would lessen the penalties for possessing and using small amounts of marijuana.

The ordinance, introduced in June by Councilwoman Judy Ritter-Dickson, would give York City Police officers the discretion to treat first, second and third offenses for possession and use of 30 grams (just over an ounce) or less of marijuana as civil matters, instead of criminal infractions.

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Under the ordinance, citations for small-amount possession and use would be processed similarly to summary traffic citations.

Michael Helfrich

On Monday, York City Council President Michael Helfrich indicated he will vote for the bill after some "logical amendments," while Councilman Henry Nixon said he “is inclined to vote for it,” despite small concerns.

More:York City Council open to marijuana decriminalization ordinance

With Helfrich and Nixon backing the bill, plus Ritter-Dickson’s support for her own ordinance, “Article 718: Marijuana Possession” is set to be added to the York City Codified Ordinances.

‘Logical’ amendments: Helfrich said he will look to clear up some of the language in Ritter-Dickson’s proposal before the council votes.

The proposal states that the ordinance is not meant to condone the possession or use of marijuana or associated paraphernalia but to create a different way to deal with these offenses as noncriminal matters.

However, the ordinance does not explicitly state that paraphernalia is covered by the ordinance — something Helfrich will look to change.

Helfrich said he also will try to amend the bill to give York County district judges the option to order offenders to perform community service in lieu of financial sanctions.

More:Residents voice support for proposed marijuana ordinance in York City

“I think we should give more flexibility to our judges to determine whether or not, what amount and how community service can be used to offset the financial costs — to bring more benefit back to the community,” Helfrich said.

Nixon previously raised concerns about the legality of the council approving a measure such as the one introduced by Ritter-Dickson, but on Monday he said those concerns had been satisfied since the council’s last meeting.

Henry Nixon

Nixon’s chief concern now is how police officers will be able to test if someone is high on marijuana.

Unlike breathalyzers that can immediately determine if someone has had alcohol in the recent past, there is no test to know whether someone has recently smoked or ingested marijuana, Nixon said.

Nixon said he is “still on the fence” and will continue to deliberate about the ordinance until the vote.

Nixon said he believes the ordinance will pass regardless of his vote Tuesday, though he said he is “inclined to vote for it” to give York City’s youth a better chance at life.

“The huge benefit is that we don’t end up with kids having problems with college and with getting loans and work,” Nixon said. “That to me is really the primary reason to vote for it.”

Fines: The proposed legislation details the sliding scale of fines for first, second and third offenses under the ordinance.

York City Police would have the discretion to cite those ages 18 and older found in possession of less than 30 grams of marijuana and fine them $100 for a first offense, according to the measure.

More:West York council rejects marijuana decriminalization

A second offense would bring a $250 fine, while a third offense would trigger a $500 fine.

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

Fines for using marijuana 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.