Decriminalizing pot is step in right direction for city

By: Duke Staff

Pot-smoking college students across Pittsburgh exhaled a collective sigh of relief this week as city council approved an ordinance to further decriminalize marijuana use.

The measure — which is expected to be signed into law by Mayor Bill Peduto in the next two weeks — makes the punishment for possessing or smoking a small amount of marijuana a summary offense, rather than a misdemeanor as state law mandates, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

The move is yet another example of progressive policy reform by our city government, which has passed common sense measures to keep Pittsburgh up to speed with other up-and-coming cities in the U.S.

Even though there are some things to keep in mind about the new legislation, the benefits far outweigh the costs.

Before this ordinance was passed, a person caught using or possessing small amounts of marijuana within city limits would be stuck with it on their criminal records as a misdemeanor charge. Now, it will appear on a person’s criminal record as violating “certain defined conduct” and not include the words “marijuana” or “controlled substance.”

Furthermore, repeat offenders will no longer find themselves at risk of going to jail for possession or dealing small amounts. This can only benefit our overcrowded city prisons and alleviate the financial burden they impose upon the city’s budget.

Whether or not you agree with recreational use of marijuana, the benefits of decriminalization cannot be ignored. People are facing immense punishments for minor offenses, flooding prisons across the country and costing the United States more money.

Pittsburgh is to be applauded for taking this financially and socially responsible first step. But progress should not stop there. Cities across the nation should follow suite in passing decriminalization legislature.

Now, some may decry the move as only benefiting the drug trade. After all, less penalties for smoking marijuana means there will be more users and more dealers, right?

According to a study by the National Academy of Sciences, decriminalization has no effect on the number of marijuana smokers in any given area, and there is little evidence to support a notion otherwise.

It is clear that this is purely common sense legislation at this point. It is time America started to step out of the shadow of the Drug War and all of the costs it entails. Our prisons are threatening to burst, and our tax dollars have much better places and purposes they can be used for.