Drug Law

Philadelphia Officials Move to Decriminalize Marijuana

| by Marijuana Policy Project

Encouraging news from the City of Brotherly Love today: Philadelphia’s new district attorney and members of the state Supreme Court are taking steps to remove criminal penalties for people arrested with up to 30 grams (or a little more than an ounce) of marijuana. Under the new approach, those caught with marijuana would face a possible fine, but receive no criminal conviction.

“The goal,” according to the Philadelphia Inquirer, “is to sweep about 3,000 small-time marijuana cases annually out of the main court system, freeing prosecutors and judges to devote time to more serious crimes. The diverted cases amount to about 5 percent of the caseload in criminal court.”

But in a frustrating case of two steps forward, one step back, a Philly police spokesman tells the paper, “We’re not going to stop locking people up … our officers are trained to do that. Whether or not they make it through the charging process, that’s up to the D.A. We can’t control that. Until they legalize it, we’re not going to stop.”

What a nuanced view.

Maybe someone should tell that guy how police in Seattle, Denver, San Francisco, and more than a dozen other cities have followed orders to make marijuana a “lowest law enforcement priority” with few complications or adverse consequences. Except, you know, for police having to focus their efforts on more serious crimes.

In any case, decriminalizing marijuana in Philadelphia—the sixth most populous city in the United States—would be a major boon for marijuana policy reform efforts in cities all across the country. Let’s hope it happens.