Bill to lower marijuana possession penalties in Harrisburg hits road block

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HARRISBURG - The bill that would lower the penalties for marijuana possession will still be debated by city leaders over the next month as the public safety committee could not come to a consensus on how it should advance.

As originally proposed by Mayor Eric Papenfuse, those caught with marijuana would face a $100 fine on the first offense, a $200 fine on the second offense, and a misdemeanor on any subsequent offenses.

But as some council members debated whether the fines should be lowered and the three strikes element removed, Papenfuse stuck to his plan.

"I think you essentially legalize it if you don't ever put an end point and if you have the fines so low, that they are able to be done just again and again and again," he said.

The biggest point of discussion was whether there should be a distinction between adults and minors in the proposal.

Harrisburg police Capt. Gabriel Olivera, standing in for Chief Thomas Carter, said the department supports the initiative as long as it helps youth avoid the pitfalls of having drug charges on their record.

"I think once we come to the consensus of the intent, whether it's to decriminalize, lower the penalties, or is the intent to use it as a deterrent factor, once we define that, then it helps kind of construct the rest of it, what we're trying to do," Cornelius Johnson, the chairman of the city council's public safety committee, said.

The committee will take the next 30 days to discuss the issue with community stakeholders to determine the intent and find consensus, Johnson said.