DOYLESTOWN, Pa. - Some say it’s an important part of criminal justice reform while others say it’s giving people a pass to puff. Either way, a change to the penalty for pot procession in Doylestown has people talking.
"I received a call from a community member who was concerned about his son who was smoking marijuana who lives locally, and his concern was that potentially if this passes there would be some sort of a tacit approval or approval that this is an okay thing to do," said Diane Rosati. She oversees Bucks County programs that help people with drug and alcohol abuse. She says one program has been operating since 2018.
"There have been about 750 folks who have graduated from that program and the vast majority of those folks had been using marijuana at some point," said Rosati. She’s worried people who need help getting clean or making better decisions may no longer get the help they need easily through these programs.
"They can be referred to what we call a decision-making class. They at least made a bad decision if they do need treatment we will fund their treatment if they have no other source of funding," she said. Her concerns stem from Doylestown Borough Council voting overwhelmingly to pass an ordinance that will ease up on penalties for marijuana possession. They say it is about criminal justice reform and protecting the future of young people.
"We're not telling kids now you can go out on the corners and smoke pot and nothing will happen to you," said Borough Councilman Joseph Frederick. He says the council discussed the ordinance with the Chief of Central Bucks Regional Police.
He supports it.
"Kids that get caught with marijuana and mainly because it was a problem for school when they went to college and they didn't want anything on their record," said Frederick. It would also free up officers to deal with other issues. Instead of being arrested under the ordinance offenders would instead get a citation and go.
"Three times it's a $25 fine. After that I believe it goes to $300," said Frederick. And if the person is under 18 Frederick says their parents will be called.
A look back at numbers in Doylestown Borough though show minimal arrests over a four-year period. The highest number of adults arrested was 18 in 2017. And the number of juvenile arrests was four and held steady in 2017, 2018 and 2020.
Borough Councilman Joe Flood is the only board member who voted against the ordinance.
"If somebody suggested this with alcohol people would automatically think they were being irresponsible," he said. Flood’s says his real concern is without the courts involved people wouldn't be required to go through a program for help.
"If you have somebody who is 13 years old and you find them on the street smoking marijuana there's a possibility that they would benefit from a program and that you're actually aiding them," he said. Flood adds the fines aren't in line with less serious offenses.
"An over-extended parking meter is actually a greater fine than marijuana in the Borough of Doylestown. If you plant bamboo illegally in the borough it's a $600 fine. It's $25 for marijuana," said Flood.
Rosati adds that the county diversionary programs also expunge records after completion of the program.
"We have significant concerns about that potential change in Doylestown Borough. There's no doubt about it this will have the consequence of additional use in the communities," she said.
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