It's official. The Pittsburgh City Council voted overwhelmingly to follow Philadelphia's lead and decriminalize possession of marijuana by adults.
The 7-2 vote Monday will reduce the penalty for possession of less than 30 grams, from a criminal misdemeanor to a fine of $25 to $100.
Sponsored by Councilman Daniel Lavelle, the bill won support of local police, prosecutors and community organizations.
Mayor Bill Peduto is expected to sign the bill into law.
Patrick Nightingale, of the Pittsburgh chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), worked for more than year meeting with stakeholders to move the issue forward.
"We are very happy that the two largest cities in the Commonwealth have embraced cannabis reform," Nightingale said following the vote.
"Just as activists in Philadelphia did in 2014, we reached out to the interested parties and took the time to build a consensus before the legislation was even introduced. The sponsor, Councilman Dan Lavelle, expressed his sincere appreciation for this approach. Council President (Bruce) Kraus recently told a fellow advocate that our effort was 'one of the best organized he's ever seen.'"
Nightingale was clear that the fight wasn't over for the bigger issue of full legalization.
"This legislation, however, falls far short of what we need and that is full legalization. Unfortunately, racial disparities will continue to exist and cannabis consumers can still face unnecessary or unwarranted police intrusion," Nightingale said. "But we are confident that we will see some of the same results that Philadelphia has witnessed over the past year: a near 80 percent reduction in misdemeanor level criminal complaints."
In 2014, there were 884 adults and 69 juveniles arrested for marijuana possession by Pittsburgh city police, according to the FBI's Uniform Crime Report. Of those arrests, 697 were of black residents. The new policy could save the city almost $1 million per year once implemented.
Last year 17,665 Pennsylvanians were arrested for having small amounts of marijuana, according to the FBI statistics. No statewide decriminalization bill has been introduced in the legislature.