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Morgantown Council passes first reading of cannabis penalty law

MORGANTOWN — Members of Morgantown City Council said they want everyone to understand that the ordinance passed unanimously on first reading Tuesday does not legalize or decriminalize marijuana possession within the city.

“I think it’s important to say what this ordinance is and what it’s not,” Councilor Dave Harshbarger said. “What it is, it’s giving our city police discretion to use another tool for a penalty.”

Should the law be adopted on second reading at the Feb. 18 council meeting, one of the four law enforcement agencies operating within the city — the Morgantown Police Department — would have the discretion to use the new city law, which limits penalties of possessing up to 15 grams of cannabis to a $15 fine through the municipal court.

The Monongalia County Sheriff’s Department, the West Virginia State Police and the WVU Police will continue to use state code, under which possession of marijuana is a misdemeanor punishable by not less than 90 days, nor more than six months in jail and/or a fine of up to $1,000. Penalties double for a second offense.

Also on Tuesday, City Manager Paul Brake said the ongoing discussion around the placement of needles disposal boxes is now being held up as Milan Puskar Health Right seeks compliance from the West Virginia Infectious Medical Waste Program.

“This arrangement has to comply with their requirements,” Brake said, explaining that what the city is considering — the placement of sharps containers in public spaces, like parks — will be the first such program in the state.

“My hope was to bring this to some closure and say, ‘This thing is done. We’re issuing the permit that addresses the individual locations,’ but this is an issue that must be addressed,” Brake said. “From the city perspective. We’re ready to move on this today.”

Milan Puskar Health Right approached the city last fall offering to purchase, place, maintain and empty sharps containers at three locations.

Health Right has operated a clean needle program since 2015.

In other city news, council passed on first reading a law changing residency requirements for city police from 15 nautical miles to 1 hour drive time.

It was explained that the move will help with officer retention and, potentially recruitment.

An ordinance making the same change for city fire personnel could be up for consideration as soon as the Feb. 18 meeting.

The changes come at the request of the city’s police and fire civil service commissions.

In other news:

  • Council approved a letter from Mayor Bill Kawecki to Gary Howell, chairman of the Government Organization Committee and state legislators in opposition to Senate Bill 209 which would dramatically alter the minor boundary adjustment method of annexation.

    The bill passed through the Senate on Jan. 29 on a 32-0 vote.

    Under SB 209, a city’s minor boundary adjustment application must include an affidavit of consent from each business, resident and freeholder in the territory.

    As previously reported, in minor boundary adjustment under current law, the city bypasses the consent of freeholders and voters and applies to the county commission to annex the territory it seeks.

    “This proposed legislation gives the minority the ability to stop any possibility, which, being realistic, it won’t happen,” Brake said.

    Morgantown’s recent effort to grow the city by about a third via minor boundary adjustment adding 3.8 square miles, 12,380 new residents, 367 businesses and 43 miles of roads — is on hold following objection, particularly an organized effort by FAIR (Forced Annexation Isn’t Right).
  • Council approved $74,674.24 for the purchase of an asphalt crack sealer for the city’s public works department.