PHILADELPHIA - As of Oct. 20, marijuana will be decriminalized in the city of Philadelphia. The bill, which was signed by Mayor Michael Nutter on Tuesday, will be turning most possession offenses into fines. Make no mistake, this isn’t full blown legalization, possessing and using marijuana will remain a civil offense.
With the bill in place, those caught with 30 grams of marijuana or less, which is just a tad over an ounce, will be cited fined $25, reports Philadelphia Magazine. Getting caught smoking in public comes with the option of a heftier $100 fine or nine hours of community service. In addition to the fine, police will also confiscate the weed in question. According to Al Jazeera, Councilman Jim Kenney, the bill’s sponsor, says that the civil offense for marijuana possession won’t be going on anyone’s permanent records; it’s just a fine, much like a parking ticket.
While the city’s move may appear to make it easier to use marijuana, that’s hardly the intent. According to CBS, Nutter emphasized during the bill-signing that weed is still illegal: “Decriminalizing means you will not be treated as a criminal for possessing small amounts of marijuana. You will not be arrested and put it jail. But as I’ve said, marijuana is still illegal.” Kenney hopes that decriminalization will lessen the impact of making a small mistake, like possessing marijuana. According to a survey done by Connecticut’s Quinnipiac University, about 85 percent of Pennsylvanians agree.
Part of the reason for the state’s support of the bill may lie in Kenney’s argument that African Americans were unfairly targeted in arrests for marijuana possession. African-Americans accounted for nearly 83 percent of the 4,614 arrests Philadelphia police made for possession of small amounts of marijuana, despite marijuana use being roughly equal among black and white Americans, reports Al Jazeera. Come late October, Philadelphia will be the largest city to decriminalize pot, hopefully providing a model for other cities to tackle their issues with marijuana use.
The Examiner/Oct. 2, 2014