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MultiState's Local Policy Digest explores the top legislative developments from municipalities across the U.S.

York, Pennsylvania, decriminalized marijuana possession, challenging state preemption.

At its July 18 meeting, the York City Council passed an ordinance decriminalizing marijuana possession under 30 grams by a 4-1 margin. The ordinance (Article 718) would implement local penalties for possessing marijuana. Under the new ordinance, first-time offenders convicted of possessing 30 grams or less could expect to pay a fine of $100 dollars or complete nine hours of community service. The penalties for second- and third-time offenders are similarly light: fines of $250 and $500, respectively. In contrast, the state law (Sec. 13(37)(f)) requires that first-time offenders serve a mandatory sentence of 30 days in jail, pay a fine of $500, or both. Unfortunately for York marijuana users, the state law on marijuana possession preempts any local ordinance that seeks to contradict it. Subsequently, David Drumheller, the traffic safety resource prosecutor with the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association, said that state police and other municipal law enforcement officers would be allowed to charge someone with a misdemeanor if they were caught with a small amount of pot. Drumheller believes that any confusion regarding the charges will ultimately be settled by the courts. The ordinance is set to go into effect on August 14.


Erie, Colorado, moves toward fracking regulation by approving an “odor” ordinance.

Last week, the Erie Board of Trustees approved an ordinance (17-250) amending the town's public health and safety code to allow Erie residents to file official complaints against hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” companies. Specifically, the ordinance expands the Abatement of Nuisance chapter to include odor emissions, which cause “annoyance or otherwise detrimentally affects the general health, safety, welfare or use and enjoyment of one’s property.” The complaints would be filed with the local police department and heard in a municipal court. If a court finds that the company has violated the ordinance, the court could order it to “pay restitution to the Town for the actual costs or loss caused to the Town by the violation.” In response, Dan Haley, president and chief executive officer of the Colorado Oil and Gas Association (COGA), issued a prepared statement highlighting COGA's problems with the ordinance.

"Erie's proposed 'annoyance' standard is extremely vague, highly subjective, and impossible to enforce on a consistent basis .... It does not adequately explain to Erie citizens what behavior or conduct may or may not be lawful, which further prevents any clear standard of enforcement. Erie's draft ordinance stands on shaky legal ground, as it is a radical departure from how Colorado common law and indeed from how other municipalities define and approach odor nuisances."
The law is set to go into effect by the end of August.

The mayor of Honolulu has enacted a ban on texting while crossing the street.

Starting this fall, pedestrians in Honolulu, Hawaii, will have to keep their heads up and phones down while crossing the city's busy streets unless they wish to incur fines up to $99. Last week, Mayor Kirk Caldwell (D) held a ceremony at which he signed the Electronic Devices Pedestrian Safety bill into law.

"Sometimes I wish there were laws we did not have to pass, that perhaps common sense would prevail," said Caldwell. "But sometimes we lack common sense." In addition to cell phones, the ordinance will also bar the use of text messaging devices, pagers, PDAs, laptop computers, hand-held video game devices, or digital cameras from crosswalks. The new law is the brainchild of a group of high school students who said they were worried about their classmates getting hit by cars while texting. The ordinance will go into effect on October 25.

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