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Council Approves Revised Bill Lessening Penalty For Small Amounts Of Marijuana

PITTSBURGH (KDKA/AP) – Pittsburgh City Council has approved ticketing those possessing marijuana with violating a city ordinance banning "certain defined conduct."

The bill approved Tuesday is a way for the city to fine people up to $100 for possessing a small amount of marijuana instead of filing a misdemeanor possession charge that results in a criminal arrest record.

The new citation will still show up on a person's record, but "marijuana" won't be mentioned, only that the person was fined for "certain defined conduct."

Councilman Ricky Burgess praised the measure as a way to keep people from winding up with a career-threatening record for a relatively minor offense.

Burgess says he does not condone drug use, but sees the bill as a small step forward.

"Many of my cousins have felonies, have lived through this process," said Burgess. "I've watched them. My family… I've had family members in the drug business. I grew up around them. I've watched this myself and know both the dangers of drug use, but also the unfairness of the criminal justice system."

"The chief from the very outset has been supportive, and I know they are having conversations with the various commanders across the city on its enforcement, and so now, the only question is when we actually begin that process," said Councilman Daniel Lavelle.

Councilwoman Darlene Harris was the only dissenter in the 8-1 vote. She's argued it's up to state or federal authorities to decriminalize pot.

But even those who voted for the bill still have concerns. Councilwoman Theresa Kail-Smith thinks there should be discussions with the county to follow suit.

"When somebody thinks that they're okay and they're driving along Middletown Road and they're in the City of Pittsburgh and the next block, or even the next few houses, they're literally in Ingram Borough and being pulled over," said Kail-Smith. "I'm afraid of how that might escalate because somebody might think that they have a right to have small amounts of marijuana, so it's a concern for me."

A spokesman for the mayor's office says he expects the mayor to sign the bill into law by the end of the week.

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