State College

State College Borough Council talks pot penalties

State College Borough Council will meet tonight at 7 p.m.
State College Borough Council will meet tonight at 7 p.m. Centre Daily Times, file

A student’s request to make marijuana offenses a civil matter in the borough took a step further Monday as a proposed ordinance moved to the public hearing phase.

Council voted unanimously to consider the ordinance, which amends the borough code by making the possession of small amounts of marijuana under certain terms and conditions a summary offense instead of a criminal offense.

The idea was proposed by Penn State senior Luis Rolfo, a Florida resident, during the March 14 council meeting. 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. Rolfo added that he has campaigned for medical marijuana in Florida.

“This would not legalize cannabis in State College,” he said in March, “but would rather give police an easier means to deal with infractions. It would be a quicker, easier resolution for all parties.”

Based on Rolfo’s suggestions, borough staff drafted an ordinance, revealing it Monday evening. According to the draft, a “small amount of marijuana” means 30 grams or less of marijuana or 8 grams or less of hashish.

Individuals found in violation of the ordinance would be issued a non-traffic citation, the draft said. A parent or guardian of a minor younger than 18 would also be found in violation and would be issued the same citation.

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.

When asked if the new ordinance would change the work of the borough police officer, police Chief Tom King said the borough saw 29 marijuana-related offenses last year. In each of those cases, an officer was required to appear in court. Barring an appeal, officers would still appear in court under the new ordinance, changing little.

“This isn’t an inordinate amount of time on our officers at this point,” King said.

Typically, no one faces jail time for simple possession, he said. In most cases, the offender is sentenced to accelerated rehabilitative disposition, which results in his or her record being expunged after a period of no further offenses.

King clarified that people found smoking and driving, or driving shortly after smoking, would likely still face driving under the influence charges, as marijuana is still considered a controlled substance in the state.

A public hearing on the ordinance could occur on May 2, Fountaine said.

Rolfo said he was pleased council voted in support of the ordinance, saying it was a simple solution for a simple problem.

“Right now, my focus is trying to get the State College Borough Council to approve this resolution and be on the right side of history,” he said.

Jeremy Hartley: 814-231-4616, @JJHartleyNews