If Mayor Nutter is capable of making a good argument against marijuana decriminalization, he hasn’t shown it so far.
It’s clear by now that the mayor doesn’t want to sign City Council’s marijuana decriminalization bill. And it’s clear the council’s veto-proof majority in passing the bill leaves him precious few methods for putting a stop to it. So Nutter has been dragging his heels and, this week, making the worst-ever arguments against letting the bill become a law.
Here are Michael Nutter’s three worst debating points against marijuana decriminalization:
1. It’s an Invitation for a Full-Scale Smoke-Down
“No one has come up to me asking, ‘Can you make it easier for me to stand on a street corner in front of some grandma’s house and smoke my joint?’” Nutter told CBS 3. He later added: “They want to be able to buy a house and have a quality of life and not have six knuckleheads outside their house smoking, having a good time, and destroying the quality of life in those neighborhoods.”
Funny thing about the Council bill: If police see you standing on a street corner in front of some grandma’s house smoking a joint, they can stop you. Pot will still be illegal. Instead of arresting you, though, police will take away your pot — they might even destroy your joint right there in front of you — and give you a $25 ticket to boot. The quality of life will be threatened only if police decide to abandon the duties that remain to them after the bill passes.
Open container prohibitions have long worked in most cities without putting drinkers in prison: Why is this so difficult?
2. It’s a Public Health Problem
"We are trying to figure out how police can appropriately deal with small amounts of marijuana in a noncriminal context that focuses on getting people to stop using, get treatment, help and services," Nutter told the Inquirer this week. The bill doesn’t do enough to push people into treatment, he said.
That’s not entirely true: If you’re a kid caught using, police will be required to give your parents brochures directing them to locations where treatment are available. There’s no such requirement for adults caught using, but money from that $25 fine they pay will go to substance abuse programs across the city.
Beyond that: Only 9 percent of marijuana users can be classified as abusers. There are probably far more people who need to be treated with marijuana than be treated for using it. Nutter’s criticism reflects a Reefer Madness understanding of the world more than reality.
3. It’s Not What Black Men Need
“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,” Nutter said, again to CBS. “That is a bogus issue. It is an insult to the community. Black people are fighting for the same things that white folks want. They want safe neighborhoods, they want a job, they want their kids to get a great education. ... Black people want that. White people want that. Purple people want that, too.”
Something else black people want: Equal protection under the law. Not to get arrested for the same stuff white people do fearlessly. We can’t say it often enough: White people and black people use marijuana at roughly the same rates. But blacks comprised 83 percent of pot arrests in Philadelphia last year. It’s bogus that the mayor seems unwilling to recognize the disparity without twisting and sneering at it.
Then again, the distinguishing feature of Mayor Nutter’s rhetoric against decriminalization this week — aside from the flimsiness of the arguments — has been its tone of petulance. It’s not a good look on him. It’s still possible to be against pot in the 21st century and come out of it looking like the grownup in the room. Too bad that mayor is failing even that minor test.
Follow @JoelMMathis on Twitter.