Philadelphia City Council Votes to Decriminalize Marijuana

If signed into law, the bill would allow Philadelphia police to issue $25 tickets for possession of up to an ounce of weed.

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[UPDATE: 4:40 p.m.] According to Councilman Jim Kenney’s director of legislation, Jim Engler, as per the Philadelphia Charter, Mayor Nutter does not have to take action on the just-passed marijuana decriminalization bill until Council is back in session in September. (The mayor has the option to sign or veto the bill, or do nothing which would also result in the bill becoming law without his official endorsement.)

“We’re writing a letter to the mayor asking him, since the voice of council has been heard and the bill has been approved by more than 12 members, that he begin implementing the bill and policy change as soon as possible,” says Engler.

The bill includes a three-month time period before it becomes law, which Engler says is something that is normally done with bills that require implementation. “Instead of waiting and twiddling our thumbs all summer long, we’re asking that if he’s going to make a decision one way or another, he should let us know now.”

[Original: 2:36 p.m.] You can breathe a little easier today, stoners, and not just because you probably are into vaping now. Philadelphia City Council voted today to decriminalize the possession of up to an ounce of weed. Even the heaviest stoners rarely buy more than an ounce at a time, so this bill is good news for Philadelphia potheads from the casual smoker to the wake-and-bake stoner.

The bill was first introduced by Councilman Jim Kenney in May. Under Kenney’s bill, Philadelphians caught with up to an ounce (30 grams) of marijuana would not be arrested. After they paid a $25 fine, they’d have the charge expunged from their record. (Presumably, their weed would also be confiscated.) Since June 2010, Philadelphia has treated possession of up to an ounce of weed as a summary offense punishable with a $200 fine and a three-hour class on drug abuse.

“After discussions with Philadelphia’s criminal justice stakeholders, my requests to end mandatory custodial arrests — i.e. handcuffs and a night in jail — were deemed an ‘administrative burden’ on our courts and police,” Kenney told NBC10.com in May. “Public officials shouldn’t be worried about ‘administrative burdens’ when our inaction is senselessly burdening over 4,000 people with life-changing criminal records each year.”

Two Republican members of City Council, Dennis O’Brien and David Oh, spoke out against the bill. O’Brien suggested the law could eventually lead to “assaults on police officers.”

Philadelphia’s decriminalization bill is similar to Washington D.C.’s, which passed last month. In testimony before City Council earlier this month, NORML’s Chris Goldstein noted blacks were arrested at five times the rates of whites for marijuana possession in 2012. People aged 18 to 34 made up 75 percent of marijuana arrests that year.

In a 2011 Daily News story, DA Seth Williams said before 2010 the city was “spending thousands of dollars for when someone possessed $10 or $15 worth of weed.” (In that article, ex-DA Lynne Abraham said potheads are committing “untold numbers of crimes” to support their habit and compared smoking weed to driving 100 miles per hour.)

The bill passed, 13-3. Mayor Nutter’s office has said he opposes the bill. The bill passed with enough votes to override a potential mayoral veto.

[PW]

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