York votes to lessen penalties for marijuana use and possession

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YORK, Pa. -- York now joins other cities, like Philadelphia and Harrisburg, by lessening penalties for people who use or possess 30 grams or less of marijuana.

York City Council President Michael Helfrich, said, "Currently young adults that get caught smoking get criminal charges, and that interferes with potential further education, employment, housing. So it really hurts people that are trying to move forward with their lives."

The ordinance gives police discretion to make possessing the drug a civil offense instead of a criminal one.

York City Police Chief Wes Kahley said, "It allows us to get officers back on the street a little faster, and the penalties always seem to be a little higher than what they would get going through the entire criminal process."

For the first three offenses, violators have to pay a fine.

The council added an amendment proposed by Helfrich that would allow people do community service instead. A judge decides how many hours that person would work.

One council member, Renee Nelson, was the only person who voted against the ordinance.

Nelson said, "If there's change to be made, it should be made by the state and then trickle down. I don't think it's appropriate for us to kind of undo what the state has already done."

Kahley said they stand by council's decision.

"They set the laws and we'll enforce them. It will be up to the courts to decide then what they're doing is legal or not," Kahley said.

Helfrich said overall, this is a step in the right direction for the city.

He said, "I believe that this is both socially responsible and fiscally responsible because we're paying thousands of dollars in a police officer's time to prosecute these types of offenses."

That ordinance will now go on to the mayor, who is expected to sign it.

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