Philadelphia Becomes the Largest City in the Country to Decriminalize Marijuana

Carey Wedler
October 2

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“Smoke Down Prohibition” marijuana activism in Philadelphia

(TheAntiMedia) PHILADELPHIA, PA- The city of Philadelphia moved to decriminalize marijuana on Wednesday when Mayor Michael Nutter signed legislation passed by the city council in June that eases penalties on possession. While this move is not legalization, it is in line with the general pattern of decriminalization and legalization that is sweeping the United States. The move makes Philadelphia the largest city in the country to decriminalize, though other cities like Santa Fe, Detroit, and a growing list of states have already done so. Image credit: The Panic Hour

Under the new policy, which goes into effect October 20th, possession of 30 grams or less will be cited and fined $25 dollars. Smoking in public will carry a $100 fine that can be waived with community service. Individuals stopped by police for marijuana possession will still have to show identification and if they refuse, can still be arrested, and police will still confiscate any marijuana they find.

Philadelphia has had a strict policy on marijuana, in line with state law. Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey insisted over the summer that whether or not the mayor signed the legislation, he would continue to make marijuana arrests. In the month following its passage, 264 were charged with possession. He said:

“We still have to treat it as a misdemeanor until we are told otherwise by state law.”

Nevertheless, Councilman Jim Kenney , author of the legislation, said at the signing on Wednesday:

“This type of action will keep kids out of the criminal justice system…It will keep people’s records clean so that they can get a job.  All of us make mistakes in our lives.  And we just don’t want their mistakes to ruin the rest of their lives.”

Decriminalization means people will not be arrested or sent to court, and this sentiment has resonated sharply with minorities. 83% of marijuana arrests in 2013 in the city were of African Americans, demonstrating the usual prejudiced element of the archaic war on drugs. In America, blacks are four times more likely to be arrested for marijuana and in Pennslyvania, five times more likely despite similar rates of use between the blacks and whites.

In August, Mayor Nutterwho initially opposed the legislationlashed out at attempts to decriminalize marijuana, saying more study was needed but also citing race. He said:

“It is an insult to the African-American community that all of this discussion and debate is revolving around whether or not black guys can smoke as much joint or weed as white guys…That is a bogus issue.  It is an insult to the community.”

By September, Nutter changed his mind.

The move to decriminalize marijuana in Philadelphia comes as the state moves toward legalizing medical marijuana. 85% of the population now supports it and the state Senate passed legislation allowing for its proliferation last week. Though medical marijuana advocates have argued it is too restrictive, it at least signals a move in the right direction and paves the road for further legalization. It remains to be seen whether or not the House legislature will approve the bill.

The developments in Pennslyvania come as increasing numbers of Americans are in favor of legalization and reform, making it clear that the trend will not reverse itself. Philadelphia’s move toward decriminalization merely reflects growing sentiments of the general population and signals a slow but steady end to the failed Drug War.

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