DOYLESTOWN, Pa. – The borough of Doylestown ended criminal penalties Monday for the possession or use of small amounts of marijuana and pot-smoking paraphernalia.
Borough Council voted 8-1 to make the penalty for possessing "small amounts" for personal use a $25 citation, not a misdemeanor. Small amounts are defined as up to 30 grams of marijuana or 8 grams of hashish. The ordinance also covers paraphernalia, defined as devices such as pipes to use marijuana.
Councilwoman Noni West said Monday's vote will focus police resources on more serious issues and keep young people's criminal records clean. First and second offenses would net the $25 fine, the third citation would cost $75, but a fourth offense within five years would lead to a misdemeanor charge.
"It's a small step we can take as a municipality to criminal justice reform," West said. She said the move is "not groundbreaking" because 14 states have already approved the decriminalization of marijuana.
Councilman Joseph Flood said the state issue raised by West provided part of his basis for being the sole "no" vote.
"I believe council lacks the authority do to this," Flood said. He said he expects the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to end criminal penalties for marijuana as a "money grab." Until then, he said Doylestown is overstepping its legal bounds.
Flood also cited Bucks County District Attorney Matthew Weintraub, who opposed the ordinance. Weintraub, a Republican, said earlier that the borough was overstepping its authority because marijuana possession is deemed a crime by the state and federal governments.
Weintraub also said pot smokers in the county are referred to treatment programs, not prosecuted — a process known as "diversion."
Flood said that by reducing the penalty for having pot, council is encouraging its use.
"After tonight, if you grow bamboo in the Borough of Doylestown, it's a $600 fine," Flood said, but smoking marijuana will only cost $25.
"This is one of the worst ordinances I've ever had to vote on," Flood said during the virtual meeting.
Councilman Larry Browne questioned Flood's approach, saying he could have raised his concerns at an earlier committee meeting.
"Instead, you decide to grandstand to a larger audience," Browne said to Flood.
Flood objected, saying his objections were sincere and stated earlier.
"I don't accuse other members of grandstanding and I don't appreciate other members of council doing that to me," Flood said.
Arguing the process "is less relevant than the debate about the merits of what (Flood) said," Councilman Ben Bell remarked.
Council then voted, with the 8-1 tally mirroring a preliminary vote on the marijuana ordinance.
Voting in favor of the ordinance to cut the penalty to a $25 fine from a misdemeanor were Bell, Browne, West, Tim Brennan, Joe Frederick, Jennifer Jarret, Wendy Margolis and President Jack O'Brien, with Flood opposed.
Central Bucks Regional Police Chief Karl Knott said neighboring Chalfont and New Britain boroughs were watching Monday's vote to determine if they will follow the Doylestown move. The Central Bucks department covers the three boroughs.
Having a consistent policy throughout Central Bucks would make enforcement easier, Knott said, but officers will be able to apply different policies in different boroughs.
"Our job is to take direction from our elected officials," Knott said. "We still have some discretion built into this ordinance."