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York City ordinance lessens penalties for people caught with marijuana – Would it preempt state law?

YORK, Pa. — Facing jail time compared to paying a fine or doing community service. That could be an issue a person comes across after a York City ordinanc...

YORK, Pa. -- Facing jail time compared to paying a fine or doing community service.

That could be an issue a person comes across after a York City ordinance passed that lessens penalties for people caught with a small amount of marijuana.

David Drumheller, the traffic safety resource prosecutor with the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association, said, "State law would preempt local law because it has statewide effect, it's passed by our legislature, signed by the governor. Local cities of course can pass ordinances to affect certain things within their jurisdictions, but generally they can't act in the same realm or the same things that state law has."

Under the city ordinance, if you are caught with 30 grams of marijuana or less, you pay a fine or do community service for the first three offenses. It gives city police officers the discretion to make the offense a civil one rather than criminal.

Drumheller said, "This only has effect within city limits, an effect on city police officers. State police and any municipal agency outside of the city would still be following the state law and charging the misdemeanor for the small amount of possession of marijuana."

If someone is arrested in York City by a state trooper for having the drug and wanted to fight the misdemeanor charge enforced by the state in court, it may not work out in their favor.

"It would be up to the courts if there was a charge within the city limit whether or not they would enforce the state law or the local ordinance. I believe that if the state law is charged, it would certainly preempt any local ordinance, and that charge would be enforced," he said.

Ultimately the judge will still decide the punishment. Drumheller said it also can be frustrating for district attorneys if the laws are not consistent.

"Certainly as a prosecutor we want uniformity in law, and that's why it's probably better to have the legislature pass laws as opposed to local ordinances that might conflict or cause non-uniformity across a county," he said.

York joins other cities like Harrisburg, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh in decriminalizing marijuana.

York's ordinance will go into effect in August.