ERIE, Pa. — A week after Erie City Council member Bob Merski mentioned the possibility of the city taking action to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana, panelists are addressing concerns of its use and law enforcement.
Officials said decriminalizing a small amount of marijuana, defined as 30 grams or less, would reduce the penalty from a misdemeanor to a summary offense.
Currently, a misdemeanor for the offense carries a penalty of up to 30 days in jails and/or a $500 fine, but repercussions can continue long after.
“Now, they’re whole life is impacted,” said community activist Art Leopold, who opened the “Casual Marijuana Use: A Crime or Civil Infraction?” forum at the Jefferson Educational Society on Thursday.
“They have difficulty getting a job, because they have to put down that they’ve been convicted of a crime,” he said.
The panelists also cited statistics that in 2016, African Americans were over eight times more likely than whites to be arrested for possession of marijuana, despite comparable rates of usage.
Rev. Dale Snyder, pastor of St. James A.M.E., said, “When people say we live in a post-racial society. I don’t know what society, you’re looking at.”
Nicole Shoenberger, Ph.D, a professor at Penn State Behrend, added that it was important to examine how the war on drugs is disproportionately affecting urban communities.
State Rep. Ed Gainey, D-Allegheny County, said, “If you want to suppress the amount of marijuana, you can’t do it through incarceration. If you want to suppress it, do it through education and people will make a better choice.”
The lawmakers have introduced H.B. 195 to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana.
He said, “I have fathers that have been taken out of the family home for either using or selling. So, now, I’ve got two or three generations in the penitentiary.”
Michael Balsan, MD, chair of the Department of Pediatrics at UPMC Hamot, suggested that the family unit is being damaged even before the child is born.
“The executive function and actual cognitive function can be affected by cannabinoid exposure in uteral,” he said.