Morgantown City Council voted in favor of an ordinance to change marijuana possession penalties at their meeting on Tuesday.
This makes one of two votes the ordinance must pass to become code, and if the ordinance is voted through, Morgantown’s municipal court would start issuing a fine of $15 for possession of less than 15 grams of marijuana.
Councilman Dave Harshbarger said the ordinance was not set to legalize or decriminalize marijuana. It would only give officers the opportunity to send charges through municipal court, rather than through the state or county.
Morgantown Police Chief Ed Preston protested the ordinance at the last council session and said that he would quit if officer discretion was taken away. Councilman Barry Lee Wendell said at Tuesday’s meeting that he supports making the punishment mandatory, no matter the cost.
“The police chief said he doesn’t want to demand that the officers take [cases] to municipal court, he would resign if we did that,” Wendell said. “I think we should say that city police officers have to refer to municipal court, and if we have to deal with that, then we’ll deal with it.”
Deputy Mayor Rachel Fetty, who voted in favor of the bill, said that she initially had concerns about the ordinance.
“I understand the argument that there’s a huge amount of hypocrisy when we stigmatize marijuana use as a recreational drug, but we legalize alcohol use,” she said. “The dangers are very similar. I’m particularly concerned with the welfare of young people and adolescents and the development of mental health issues related to genetic and environmental factors, and the way in which THC use can exacerbate those concerns.”
This first vote does not mean that the city ordinance has been changed. For the proposed ordinance to pass, it must be accepted in two voting sessions. The final vote will be held on Feb. 18.