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Erie City Council to weigh marijuana decriminalization

Council to consider citations for cannabis

People caught in Erie with small amounts of marijuana could face a misdemeanor.

Erie City Councilman Bob Merski says he would like to see that changed. He is proposing to reduce the penalty to a summary offense, or a “non-traffic citation,” that results in a fine.

"What we're trying to do is allow young people the opportunity to serve in the military,” he said. “There are barriers to opportunities when you have a misdemeanor--to housing, to job opportunities--that carry with you through the rest of your life for a low-level, nonviolent crime."

Merski said some racial groups are disproportionately prosecuted.

"African Americans are eight times more likely to be convicted than whites, even though studies show that usage is pretty much equal across all races."

As municipalities take their own measures, legislators said the whole state could move toward decriminalization.

State Rep. Ryan Bizzarro, D-3rd Dist., said, "Eventually, it is going to be the law of the land. It's just a matter of when.”

Bizzarro said Democrats and Republicans are having candid discussions about how changing the law could affect Pennsylvanians.

"It's a step in the right direction. It certainly saves us money. Saves taxpayers money,” he said. “But it's also a step in the right direction for bringing Pennsylvania up to the 21st century and how we're handling these more petty drug offenses."

Merski said six municipalities have already passed similar resolutions or ordinances, including the cities of Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Reading, Harrisburg and York and the Borough of State College.

He said, "Because it's a non-violent offense, with a low level of possession and an otherwise law-abiding citizen, I think it just makes sense."

Merski said he expects the council to take action on the issue before the end of the year.

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