York police officers better equipped to handle marijuana offenses

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YORK, Pa. -- Up until a few months ago, police were arresting more people for small amounts of marijuana than giving citations.

The chief saying that's okay because his officers were abiding by state and federal law.

But all that's changed because now officers have a better understanding of the York City ordinance concerning marijuana.

Now, they're handing out tickets when someone has a small amount of marijuana rather than putting that person in cuffs.

"Anytime you have a new law, whether it comes from the state legislature or an ordinance, there’s some growing pains," explained Chief Troy Bankert.

Some of those 'growing pains' included York City police officers not fully understanding the ordinance and if and when they could search people.

"What they knew was that the possession of marijuana in Pennsylvania is a criminal offense, so they were charging the criminal charges," explained Chief Bankert.

The ordinance states people can have and smoke a small amount of marijuana in a public space.

A small amount is considered around 30 grams or less which is about an ounce.

Those people will receive whats called a civil violation, similar to a traffic citation.

“I think it’s hard on them because it’s still federally unlawful to use or sell or possess marijuana," said Kelly Hilton of York.

“I think sometimes when our legislators pass laws, the mechanics of that, doesn’t always get passed down to people who implement or pass that long," said Charles Huff of Harrisburg.

Chief Bankert says his officers now have a better grasp on the law in York.

“In the six months after we did our retraining, we had 27 citations and no criminal arrests for the possession of marijuana as the lead charge," he explained.

Some say that’s a good thing.

“It’s taking time off police hands for unnecessary nonviolent crime," added Hilton.

If someone is caught with a pipe, bong, or any other drug paraphernalia, they will still be criminally charged in York.

A civil violation for possession of a small amount of marijuana in York will cost someone $100 on the first offense, $250 on a second, and $500 on a third.

A civil violation for smoking marijuana in York will cost a person $150 on the first offense, $300 on a second, and $600 on a third.

Here's a link to that ordinance.

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