BETHLEHEM - Is city going to pot? Not yet
Bethlehem City Councilwoman Olga Negron wants the city to adopt an ordinance that would reduce penalties for possession and personal use of small amounts of marijuana. However, the proposed law was not voted on Tuesday when it was placed on the agenda for a “first reading,” but instead council members decided to refer the matter to the Public Safety Committee for further review.
Part of the problem, Negron said in an interview, was a letter sent to Mayor Robert Donchez by Lehigh County District Attorney Jim Martin suggesting that the proposed law would be unenforceable because of existing state law.
A small part of the City of Bethlehem is in Lehigh County while most of the city is in Northampton County. For that reason, the city is in two separate jurisdictions, each with their own district attorneys.
Several speakers used the public comment time portion of the agenda to express support for the measure.
Jeff Riedy, the executive director of Lehigh Valley NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws) spoke passionately on the subject, calling existing laws prohibiting marijuana “examples of the failed war on drugs.”
Maximo Vasquez urged council to approve the proposed ordinance and thus “be on the right side of history.” He called marijuana possession a mostly victimless crime.
Santiago Rivera also supported decriminalization.
In another matter, resident Steve Diamond told city council that despite the recent ordinance designed to stop certain homes from being leased via Airbnb, some “properties are still functional. The ordinance has no teeth.”
He wanted to know who will take responsibility for enforcement of the ordinance.
Bethlehem’s Director of Community Economic Development Alicia Karner responded, saying enforcement “falls under the housing office. “
Karner said, several citations have been filed and, “We’ll let it play out in the court system.”