Legislator who advocates for legal pot visits Pittsburgh mayor

by: Bob Bauder, TribLIVE Updated:

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PITTSBURGH - Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto said he supports the legalization of marijuana for medical purposes and would consider decriminalization based on input from a new police chief.

(This article was written by Bob Bauder, a staff writer for Channel 11’s news exchange partners at TribLIVE.)

One of the state's leading advocates of legalized marijuana — state Sen. Daylin Leach, D-Montgomery County — met with Peduto on Tuesday. The meeting was not centered on marijuana, Leach said, while waiting in Peduto's office.

“I'm firmly for the use of marijuana for medical purposes,” Peduto said before the meeting.

Peduto added that his administration has more pressing needs to address, such as gun violence and hiring a police chief, before talking about decriminalizing the drug in Pittsburgh.

“Really, that isn't an issue that this administration is going to deal with this year,” he said.

However, he noted that Philadelphia City Council in June passed an ordinance making possession of up to an ounce of marijuana subject to a $25 fine. Those cited can have their records expunged after paying the fine, according to the ordinance.

The ordinance says the “federal government's war on drugs has failed,” that nonviolent marijuana arrests clog Pennsylvania courts and jails and that the state spends $350 million annually enforcing marijuana laws.

Mayor Michael Nutter has until September to sign or veto the bill, but council has enough votes to override a veto, according to reports.

Possession of less than an ounce for personal use is a misdemeanor in Pennsylvania with a maximum penalty of 30 days in jail or a $500 fine, according to the state criminal code.

However, people guilty of marijuana possession in Pittsburgh are typically issued a citation similar to a traffic ticket, said Mike Manko, spokesman for Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr.

“Usually what happens is those get worked out as a summary disorderly conduct (citation),” Manko said.

Leach has separate bills pending in the Senate that would legalize medical and recreational use of marijuana. He said his office is pushing legalization for medical purposes.

Last month he and three aides traveled to Denver, where he smoked pot and visited marijuana production, distribution and testing facilities to find out how the process works in Colorado. The trip cost state taxpayers $5,000.

Leach said while in Pittsburgh he plans on meeting with Pittsburgh Norml, a group that advocates for marijuana decriminalization. He will return home on Wednesday, he said.

“I'm just trying to keep in touch with leading officials around the state,” Leach said of his meeting with Peduto.

(Bob Bauder is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-765-2312 or bbauder@tribweb.com.)