The Pittsburgh City Council voted to approve the decriminalization of marijuana in an action similar to that of Philadelphia's City Council in 2014. After the vote on December 21, 2015, Mayor Bill Peduto signed the measure into law. Employers need to be aware of these changes as they may affect workplace policies.
The Council voted 7 to 2 in favor of a bill that allows police the option to charge people with small amounts of marijuana as a civil violation, carrying a fine of $25 and no permanent criminal record. Marijuana possession and sale remain illegal. In the case of minors, parents or guardians will be notified of the offense and must pay the fine. However, it is important to note that the new ordinance cannot fully decriminalize marijuana possession in Pittsburgh until changes occur at the state or federal level. Thus, police officers still have discretion to charge marijuana possession as a misdemeanor offense if they choose, but the Chief of Police and District Attorney have indicated that they will not pursue such cases.
This follows a growing trend across the country that has seen Washington D.C., along with 20 states, decriminalize marijuana use. The most recent state being Delaware, where the law was passed in June and took effect on December 18, 2015. This is in addition to the 23 states that have legalized use for medical purposes and four states for recreational use.
At this point this is just one more step toward the seemingly constant change of the nations' marijuana laws. The recent Omnibus Appropriations bill that was passed by Congress on December 16, 2015, funding the federal government through 2016 fiscal year, included two marijuana provisions. The first prevents the Department of Justice and the Drug Enforcement Administration from spending money to interfere with the implementation of state medical marijuana laws. The other measure prevents the Department of Justice and the Drug Enforcement Administration from spending money to interfere with the implementation of state industrial hemp research programs.
Comment: Legislation is currently pending, but it appears likely Pennsylvania (in the not too distant future) will join the other 23 states legalizing medical marijuana. This will create myriad issues for both employers and carriers in the coming years with regard to employment, safety, workers' compensation, testing and paying for medical marijuana and require employers to review and update their handbooks and policies.
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