Harrisburg mayor proposes loosening marijuana laws

Written by Ben Allen, General Assignment Reporter | Feb 11, 2016 4:47 AM

FILE PHOTO: Harrisburg Mayor Eric Papenfuse

(Harrisburg) -- Philadelphia and Pittsburgh have both weakened laws on marijuana possession in the past couple of years.

Now, Harrisburg may be next.

At a City Council meeting Thursday night, Harrisburg's Mayor Eric Papenfuse plans to propose changing marijuana possession from a misdemeanor to a summary offense, like a traffic ticket.

People caught with 30 grams of marijuana - enough to make about 60 joints - would face a fine instead of a criminal charge.

The change would only apply to the first two offenses (fines would hit $100 for the first offense, and $200 for the second).

Under the ordinance, if you get caught a third time, you then would be charged with a misdemeanor.

"It can't be a repeated pattern," says Papenfuse. "We're going to be reaching out to the families. If these are underage minors, then the family plays a role in this, and I think there are strong provisions in the bill about communication between the police department and the family."

Papenfuse says people make mistakes, and shouldn't have to pay for them for their entire life.

"It's an opportunity to try and, I hope, address the root causes of the offense in a way which doesn't unduly penalize it or criminalize it for the long term."

Papenfuse also says police officers can spend hours in a courtroom for a marijuana possession case, instead of patrolling the streets.

Papenfuse says he is not in favor of marijuana legalization..

City Council would have to approve the plan before any change goes into effect.

Dauphin County District Attorney Ed Marsico has said he's concerned about the proposal because he would prefer that all laws get enforced in the same way throughout the county.

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