Philadelphia has always been backwards in legislating criminal justice. Stealing from the city’s fund with the morally corrupt DROP program is okay, but getting caught with pot on a street corner means a night in jail. That is the warped logic of our City Council that bows to the whims of corrupt city unions, but goes out of its way to screw just about everyone else.
Jim Kenney has been a glowing exception in attempting to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana in a city where a pot bust is too often just an excuse to throw another teenager in jail for the night.
Councilman Kenney told the Daily News, “Philadelphia is in the dark ages when it comes to marijuana laws enforcement.”
I’m not certain about the dark ages, maybe more like the 1950’s — the Reefer Madness era. But Philadelphia is definitely not living in the present, where states and municipalities, one by one, are legalizing and decriminalizing marijuana at such a pace that it will soon be legal across the country. And that is the right thing to do, as all of the old arguments against pot use are being proved wrong.
Before I continue, I have no personal stake in this fight. I don’t smoke marijuana, nor do I want to. I tried it in college and it had the same effect on me that it had on Woody Allen, who describes, “curling up in the corner in a fetal position with a lobster bib to catch the drool.”
But when the laws are changing across the country, from Washington to Alabama, as quickly as the attitudes about pot use, not another young Philadelphian should be put in the back of a squad car because police found a dime bag during a stop-and-frisk.
It is the overriding reason that African-Americans are three and a half times more likely to get busted for pot than whites. Pot is too often used as an excuse to take someone off the street because police don’t like the looks of them. It is the dominating reason that few seem to object to the tactic — get the “bad guys” off the streets no matter what.
This is not a Philadelphia phenomenon. In New York City, court records show that marijuana possession is far and away the number one reason for court arraignments. The Brooklyn borough president has had enough. Eric Adams points out that his borough has one of the highest racial discrepancies of pot arrests in the country, “We only enforce it in certain parts of Brooklyn and that is unacceptable.”
It should be unacceptable in Philadelphia too.
Councilman Kenney would rather focus on the police time wasted in arresting and prosecuting for a pocket full of pot. Kenney told the Daily News, “With over 4,200 arrests in 2012, and an average of two to three hours per arrest, the measure will save an estimated 17,000 police hours on an annual basis.” The pot arrests also clog up the courts and end up costing millions, instead of making money with a $25 ticket for pot possession.
The only problem with the Kenney solution is that it gives police the discretion in either writing the ticket or taking the offender in, if they consider him or her to be a “bad actor.” The Brooklyn solution, written by District Attorney Ken Thompson, applies only to those with clean or minimal criminal records, a small, but important difference from Kenney’s plan.
Kenney tried to get council to vote on a decimalization plan once before, but they hemmed and hawed it to death. Now he is looking for Michael Nutter to pass it with an executive order. The mayor has nothing to lose, as before long, pot will be legal in Philadelphia and everywhere else.
There is little question that soon every state in the union will legalize marijuana. Why am I so sure? As always, the answer is money. The same thing happened with the lottery and casino gambling. Moral objectors were bought off with tax revenue.
The legal marijuana industry in Colorado is quickly becoming a billion-dollar business. It’s estimated the state will take in close to 200 million a year in taxes, or a billion over the next five years.
For a billion dollars in taxes, Governor Tom Corbett, Mayor Nutter, or any political executive in the country, would show up at your home and roll a joint for you.
Just think what Philadelphia City Council could do with the money. Maybe replenish the city pension fund that it has allowed so many over the years to siphon?
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