The State College Borough Council convened for its biweekly meeting Monday night in the downtown Municipal Building, where it heard comments from students and community members alike over the course of three-and-a-half hours. Two proposed amendments — about marijuana possession and the Property Maintenance Code — took center stage during the meeting.
A proposed ordinance to make small marijuana possessions (under 30 grams of bud or eight grams of hashish) a summary offense rather than a misdemeanor was first brought to the Council by senior Luis Rolfo in March. The current model of marijuana enforcement in the State College community has serious ramifications for students, especially when it comes to tuition aid.
“If you are convicted of a drug crime, you can be disqualified from [student]loans. ARD (Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition) is not a conviction,” State College Police Chief Tom King said. “After one year, if you don’t have a further crime, you can have your record expunged. [The proposed amendment] is just for the Borough. Of course, it would be treated differently if it were the Bryce Jordan Center or Beaver Stadium.”
On-campus housing located within the confines of the Borough, like South Halls, would create a sort of discrepancy for local law enforcement under the current system. “I can say that that is contrary to how law enforcement has practiced for 35 or 40 years, where Penn State Police do not routinely, or at all, enforce any Borough ordinances,” King said.
Though Philadelphia and Pittsburgh have both passed decriminalization measures, the current proposed amendment in State College does not technically fit the description of “decriminalization,” according to King. Those in possession of marijuana paraphernalia, for instance, would still be charged with a misdemeanor regardless of the amount of marijuana in their possession at the time.
State College defense Attorney Andrew Shubin was the first community member to speak favorably to lowering the penalties following King’s statement.
“From your constituents’ point of view, they’re worried about the criminal histories, they’re worried about how expensive it is to get involved with a marijuana contact, they’re worried about supervision, which can prevent them from doing what they need to do and showing up at work when they need to show up,” Shubin said. “There are license suspensions associated with a marijuana conviction, and student loans, so they’re worried about those things.”
Most other community members who voiced their opinions to the Council favored the adoption of a refined version of the ordinance. Mayor Elizabeth Goreham encouraged Borough residents to continue the conversation through the Council’s Engage forum.
The second topic of discussion was the proposed Property Maintenance Code amendments, which feature points of concern for students — namely the ban on interior furniture being used on outdoor porches and imposing a maximum occupancy for outdoor areas of fenced-in rental properties (read: potential regulation of outdoor daylongs, even those not held at fraternity houses).
UPUA President Terry Ford and UPUA Governmental Affairs Chair Shawn Bengali asked the Council to delay its vote on the amended Maintenance Code until the fall when students, who make up approximately 80 percent of the Borough, can be thoroughly informed enough to give their input in a constructive and fair manner. After hearing from quite a few more community members, and after Council yelled at the student advocates, the Council passed a motion to table the vote until late September or early October, but agreed to continue discussion on the amendment at summer meetings.