Marijuana usage, whether medical or recreational, is a controversial topic that receives both national and local attention from health care providers, policy makers and the general community. Councilman R. Daniel Lavelle, District 6, is one of those policy makers. Councilman Lavelle approaches the marijuana issue from a social justice viewpoint.
A report commissioned from Carnegie Mellon University and published in December 2015 discusses the historical, medical and social aspects of marijuana used for nonmedical reasons. Data from the report noted that racial minorities in the City of Pittsburgh, predominantly Black males, are charged with minor possessory offenses five times more often than their White counterparts, despite similar rates of usage. In 2014, 70 percent of those arrested for marijuana possession in Pittsburgh were Black. According to Councilman Lavelle, this is a concern because many of those charged with a felony offense of cannabis possession have their lives ruined. The social effect is damaging. People charged could lose their jobs or their housing vouchers. The report goes on to suggest that marijuana decriminalization is an “ethical framework for principles of harm reduction and fairness.”
In December 2015, Councilman Lavelle sponsored an ordinance providing the assessment of a civil fine for small amounts of marijuana (30 grams or less), under certain terms and conditions. Possession of marijuana is a federal crime. This felony charge would go on people’s permanent records. They would also receive a $500 fine and could spend time in jail. This new amendment would give police officers another option when making a marijuana possession charge for small amounts. It could now be considered a civil offense, similar to a speeding ticket, with no jail time and a lower fine of $25. While City of Pittsburgh cannot override state law, this is another option. Councilman Lavelle is optimistic that this new ordinance could have positive outcomes for the community.
On a state level, it is projected that the amendment introduced by Councilman Lavelle could save the city and court system $1 million. Because this amendment is so new, no data are available yet. However, it is something that Councilman Lavelle is working on. He hopes this amendment will begin to change perspectives and benefit the relationships between the police and the African American community in Pittsburgh.
More information on Councilman Lavelle’s legislation can be found at http://www.pittsburghpa.gov/district6/legislation. The full commission report can be found at http://www.cmu.edu/hss/ehpp/documents/
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