Borough Council passed a rule Monday allowing the State College police to enforce some marijuana offenses as an ordinance violation rather than filing criminal charges, however, the challenge of enforcing the rule still looms.
The idea was proposed by Penn State senior Luis Rolfo, a Florida resident, in March. During the public comment portion of the meeting, Rolfo asked that council consider allowing police to enact a civil penalty similar to ordinances in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.
Any drug conviction results in a risk of a student losing federal student aid, he said.
Council revealed a drafted ordinance in April, proposing that individuals found in violation of the ordinance would be issued a non-traffic citation. A parent or guardian of a minor younger than 18 would also be found in violation and would be issued the same citation.
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Individuals found possessing a small amount would be subject to a fine of $250, the draft said. Those found smoking in a public place would be fined $350.
The fine structure is similar to borough fines for open container violations, borough Manager Tom Fountaine said.
A public hearing on the proposed ordinance was held by council in May, with almost all of those speaking on the proposal in favor of enacting it.
Fountaine said Penn State advised the borough that “it would be required to continue enforcing the state law and citing possession under the Pennsylvania Crimes Code due to state and federal funding requirements at the university.” Fountaine noted that the crimes code would also be enforced in the other two municipalities under State College police jurisdiction — College and Harris townships — as well as neighboring townships of Ferguson and Patton.
Based on the “significant challenges” in the enforcement of the local ordinance, he said, staff recommended that council not enact the ordinance at this time.
A small group spoke in favor of the ordinance, including two students and the borough’s undergraduate association representative.
Councilwoman Theresa Lafer said she agreed with the students, but the ordinance presented practical problems. For true change, she said, laws must be changed at the state and federal level, and encouraged the students to speak to their local representatives.
Locally, she said, “everyone thinks they live in State College,” and if caught, may find themselves outside the borders of the borough where the ordinance has no effect. She said she would be more comfortable following the staff suggestion, citing the impracticality of the rule as it stands.
Councilman David Brown disagreed, saying he was “not impressed” with the argument that there are significant challenges in enforcing the law. He suggested that State College could be a “shining beacon,” as former President Ronald Reagan said, to possibly change the surrounding municipalities and even Penn State campus.
Responding to a question about records, police Chief Tom King verified that misdemeanor charges — including marijuana charges — can be expunged from a person’s record after completion of an accelerated rehabilitative disposition program and about $1,200 in fees. A summary charge, like the new rule proposed, would remain on a person’s publicly available criminal record for five years.
A motion to not adopt the staff recommendation failed 2-5, with Tom Daubert and Cathy Dauler voting yes. A motion to table the law till a later date also failed.
Resident Jim Shincovich spoke before the final vote, warning that many companies have policies regarding drugs and dig into a prospective employee’s past.
“If there’s marijuana possession on (the record) for a prospective student, they will not get hired,” he said. “For five years, if you’re out looking for a job ... if they see this, criminal or summary, that student won’t be employed.”
A vote to adopt the ordinance passed 5-2, with Daubert and Dauler voting no.