Police officers in the small suburban Philadelphia college town of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania are refusing to take part in city-specific cannabis decriminalization, despite revised local laws being on the books for nearly two years.
According to Lehigh Valley Live, Bethlehem Police Chief Mark DiLuzio told City Councilors that in the 21 months since cannabis was decriminalized, cops have used the local citation procedure in only 19 out of 289 minor cannabis cases. The police relied on state laws to make misdemeanor arrests in the other 270 instances. At the meeting, Councilors immediately expressed shock that their unanimously passed cannabis reform law had essentially been ignored.
“These are troubling numbers,” Councilwoman Dr. Paige Van Wirt said.
In an attempt to defend his department, Chief DiLuzio argued that the 2018 Council ordinance gives police the discretion to use the city fine or pursue state charges in cannabis cases. DiLuzio said that officers make those decisions based on suspect cooperation, intoxication status, and quantity of weed carried. But with a clear 30 gram limit for the city citations and no additional rules about marijuana intoxication in city law, it appears that local police are using personal biases to justify continued cannabis persecution.
To make matters worse, Lehigh University, which sits inside of Bethlehem, is home to its own separate police department, where officers have charged only one person with a state cannabis crime since summer 2018. With such drastic differences in law enforcement just blocks away, City Councilors pushed DiLuzio to rationalize the arrest discrepancies.
“It’s hard not to see the troublesome implication there between what happens at Lehigh if you get caught with a small amount of marijuana," Councilman J. William Reynolds said at the meeting. “When you are dealing with a different group of people economically, that aren’t living here, that are coming for four years, that don’t have to face the same level of enforcement of the laws that other people do, that live two blocks away that, often times, aren’t nearly in the same economic class.”
Despite the barrage of criticism from city leaders, Chief DiLuzio did not budge on his department’s decision to continue cannabis arrests, and said that officers would only begin to respect the citation program if marijuana was decriminalized or legalized at the state level.
Time to get in gear, Pennsylvania.
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