Small amount of pot could soon be treated like a parking ticket in Harrisburg

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HARRISBURG, Pa. -- Getting busted for a small amount of pot in Harrisburg could soon be treated more like a parking ticket, for three strikes anyway. "We are basically reclassifying it to a summary citation," said Harrisburg Mayor Eric Papenfuse. He wants to change the crime from a misdemeanor to a summary offense for 30 grams or less.

The plan is not the same as decriminalization, which other cities like Philadelphia and Pittsburgh have implemented. For the first offense, the fine would be $100, the second, $200, and the third would increase the charge to a misdemeanor. Despite the change, Mayor Papenfuse said he is not supporting the drug. "This is not an ordinance change that should be interpreted as being pro-marijuana," said Papenfuse. Rather, he said it would maximize resources.

Last year alone police made more than 600 misdemeanor arrests. "It's an opportunity to deal with real problems, with violent criminals, with shooters, and everybody else, and to get the prison population down," said Harrisburg Police Chief Thomas Carter.

Both Papenfuse and Carter argue the plan would save people, including juveniles, from a criminal record. "We're trying to give our youth a future, and trying to help them realize the potentials that they have," said Chief Carter. "We will also contact their parents, and help them get the assistance they need."

Jamal Jackson has been down the wrong road before. He said marijuana was a gateway drug for him. "I was around 18 or 19 when I experimented with marijuana, and it led to alcohol, and other things like that," he said. He thinks this sends the wrong message to youth. "A lot of times as a juvenile, you'll say, I just got a slap on the wrist, I know what I'm going to receive, and I'm going to do it again."

Mayor Papenfuse said it will do the opposite, instead of helping spare people on the wrong path from a darker future. "We don't want to see anyone with a mark on their permanent record that will linger with you for the rest of your life," he said.

The change in classification would also change where the fine costs go. Instead of costs going to the court system, with a misdemeanor offense, with a summary, the city would receive the money.

Mayor Papenfuse will present his plan to Harrisburg City Council Members Thursday evening. He said council will likely refer the ordinance to a committee for more study.

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