Decriminalizing Marijuana in Philly

SAN FRANCISCO - JULY 13: Containers of medicinal marijuana are seen on display at the Alternative Herbal Health Services cannabis dispensary July 13, 2006 in San Francisco. San Francisco city planners are deciding July 13 if they will issue a permit to allow Kevin Reed to open the Green Cross medical marijuana dispensary right in the middle of San Francisco's Fisherman's Wharf area, a popular tourist destination. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

In an effort to decriminalize marijuana in Philadelphia, Mayor Michael Nutter confirmed Monday, September 8, that he would sign a bill into law called the Philadelphia Marijuana Decriminalization Bill.

The bill states, “Non-violent drug and alcohol abuse is proven to cause long-term health risks and should be dealt with as a public health issue, not as a criminal issue.” It says that criminally punishing the possession of small amounts of marijuana (or SAM) does not stop the drug’s use, while it does burden taxpayers and stop individuals’ future successes through obtaining a criminal record. 

According to the Huffington Post, Philadelphia Councilman Jim Kenney originally sponsored the decriminalization bill in May, which planned to end arrests of citizens carrying small amounts of pot—approximately 30 grams, or less than an ounce.

In Kenney’s initial bill, guilty parties would receive only a $25 ticket for their small-time possession. Nutter’s recent compromise with Kenney will not be as easy-going on possessors of the drug, but instead, adjust the bill to include an additional $100 fine for smoking in public. This fine could be waived with up to nine hours of community service. Lastly, police officers will be required to write persons a violation notice and confiscate the marijuana.

Signing the bill will mean saving the Philadelphia Police Department about $4 million per year, and 4,000 people from being arrested [for SAM use], according to Kenny. Kenny remarks, “We have so many people that we are putting in the prison pipeline, and the poverty pipeline, because a criminal record is a debilitating thing.”

For those dubious of Kenney’s intentions in the bill, Kenny has stated that decriminalizing pot possession is not the same as condoning marijuana use, according to CBS Philly.

The bill was amended Thursday, September 11 by council, and is set to be effective as a law October 20 after Nutter signs his approval.

On Wednesday, September 10 at the Mayor’s press conference, Nutter spoke on his position over the decriminalization law. In a Youtube video posted by PhilaGov, he said, “We know that over time, attitudes about marijuana have changed dramatically, and there are many, many laws over the past decades that were enacted. But we also know that many of these laws have not fully had the intended impact in terms of reducing drug use. In order to try to come up with the best possible policy for the citizens of our great city, we’ve looked at a variety of measures enacted across the country including cities like Chicago and Washington, D.C… Currently 13 states in four cities have decriminalized penalties for marijuana possession or use, and additionally 16 cities have made marijuana their lowest law-enforcement policy.”

“[Councilman Kenny] laid out in clearest terms the seriousness of the issues that are facing many Philadelphians affected by the disproportionately severe criminalization of possession…of small amounts of marijuana,” Nutter stated.

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