Bethlehem City Council on Tuesday voted to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana, making the penalty like a traffic fine.
Mayor Robert Donchez said earlier this week he would likely sign the measure into law, but that doesn't mean that people can start lighting up without fear of getting a criminal record.
Bethlehem is split between two counties headed by district attorneys who differ on the issue.
Northampton County District Attorney John Morganelli said he would leave it up to individual municipalities to decide on decriminalization on amounts of less than 30 grams. But Lehigh County District Attorney Jim Martin called for the state law, which makes the violation a criminal misdemeanor, to be enforced.
Taking a cue from Allentown's police chief after a similar ordinance was passed there, Bethlehem Police Chief Mark DiLuzio said he would not enforce the new ordinance in the Lehigh County portion of the city.
In Northampton County portion, DiLuzio said he would leave it to the officers' discretion whether to charge violators under the ordinance, the state law or both, allowing the district judge to decide which to uphold.
"I feel like King Solomon with a sword," DiLuzio said.
DiLuzio raised concerns about the constitutionality of treating offenders differently within the same city. The ordinance calls the violation a summary offense, punishable by a $25 fine for the first offense. State law calls it a criminal misdemeanor, punishable by up to 30 days in jail and a $500 fine.
Council President Adam Waldron said he understands the chief's position but is disappointed in it.
Councilman J. William Reynolds said decriminalization is the "right thing to do" despite the inaction of state legislators and Martin's directive.
DiLuzio said that possession of a small amount of marijuana tallied few arrests. In 2017, Bethlehem made the charge 183 times. There were 624 arrests on the charge across Northampton County, he said.
DiLuzio said most of those charges are lodged because the person was stopped first for other crimes such as driving under the influence.
The measure passed 6-0. Supporters herald the proposal for ensuring that young violators aren't shackled with a criminal record.
Bethlehem is the eighth municipality in Pennsylvania to adopt a pot decriminalization measure. Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Erie, Harrisburg, York and State College have adopted similar ordinances.
The ordinances do not legalize marijuana for recreational use but reduce the penalty for those possessing 30 grams or less of marijuana.