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Harrisburg takes public feedback on lowering marijuana possession penalties

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HARRISBURG - Dozens of people from several communities urged city leaders to proceed with a plan to soften the penalties for marijuana possession in small amounts.

A Harrisburg resident who only identified himself as Mark said his brother was arrested for that crime years ago.

He was “sentenced to two years in prison, brutalized while he was incarcerated and was unable to get a job because of his record and he thought and felt the only other option was to commit suicide and that's exactly what he did,” Mark said.

Under what's currently proposed, those found with small amounts of marijuana in city limits would face a $100 fine the first time, a $200 fine the second time, and a misdemeanor on the third strike. Fines collected would go toward funding a drug treatment program.

“The city is not benefiting from that whatsoever,” Harrisburg police Chief Thomas Carter said. “We don't want to benefit from it, but we acknowledge the fact that we do have a problem with kids smoking and adults smoking.”

But opponents to the proposal remain unconvinced, urging the council to strengthen penalties.

“Do you know that every drug dealer on the city corners of Harrisburg is [sic] salivating at the mouth hoping that you'll pass this bill?” one resident asked. “Hello, are you sending the right message to the young people of the city of Harrisburg?”

Harrisburg would join Philadelphia and Pittsburgh as the only cities in the state to take this step.

“I don't think that a non-violent crime, a non-violent crime should be any reason to hold an albatross over somebody's neck that they can't get up,” Carter said.

City leaders will take the feedback and make a decision on how to proceed in the coming days.