In recent years, a tidal wave of public opinion has risen against the prohibition of marijuana, as more and more cities and states are considering decriminalization or even outright legalization of the plant. State after state has approved medical cannabis. Yet, despite this political movement, many harsh marijuana prohibition laws remain on the books, placing the US in the lead worldwide in imprisoning its own population as non-violent marijuana users continue to fill penitentiaries across the nation.
In response to this changing tide, Philadelphia City Councilman Jim Kenney recently introduced a bill that would reduce the penalty for possession of an ounce or less of marijuana to a $25 fine. In the original version of the bill, this penalty would have worked similarly to a parking ticket. Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter asked the council to amend the bill such that marijuana possession would be considered a non-summary civil offense, meaning someone caught with pot would still have to stand before a judge. However, the infraction would not appear on the cited individual’s criminal record. CBS Philly is reporting that, on Monday, Mayor Nutter agreed to sign the amended bill if it passes.
The City Council will vote on Mayor Nutter’s amendment this Thursday and will then vote on final passage of the bill the following week. It is expected to pass. If it does, it will then be sent to Mayor Nutter, who has agreed to sign it into law.
Councilman Kenney described how the decriminalization bill would work in practice, “We’ve gotten to a place where it is out of the criminal realm. There’s no more handcuffs, no more bookings, no more criminal record. Police will not have to leave their posts and go to the station house to deal with this. People will pay a fine based on the offense: $25 for the possession of anything under an ounce.” The bill would also adjust penalties for smoking marijuana in public, which would be punished with either a $100 fine or community service.
Kenney said, according to CBS Philly, “There will be no criminal record for an individual. And that’s a major step. 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.” Councilman Kenney said the bill would help the city’s police force cut costs by nearly $4,000,000 and would reduce the number of arrests in Philadelphia by around 4,000.