Philadelphia mayor reverses course, endorses proposal decriminalizing limited marijuana use
Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter (D) has endorsed a proposal decriminalizing possession of up to one ounce of marijuana, KYW-TV reported on Monday.
The bill, proposed by city council member Jim Kenney (D), would levy fines of $25 for people caught possessing small amounts of the drug, and $100 for smoking it in public. But those fines would fall under the umbrella off “non-summary civil offenses,” meaning offenders would not face criminal charges and would be able to have their fines waived by agreeing to perform public service.
“We’ve gotten to a place where it is out of the criminal realm,” Kenney was quoted as saying. “There’s no more handcuffs, no more bookings, no more criminal record. Police will not have to leave their posts and go to the station house to deal with this.”
The proposal represents a compromise between Kenney and Nutter’s administration; his original proposal, passed by the council in a 13-3 vote before its summer recess this past June, made possession of an ounce of marijuana or less punishable by a citation. But Nutter criticized the move at the time, calling the argument by supporters that marijuana-related arrests focus on Black males, “an insult to the African-American community.”
“That is a bogus issue,” Nutter was quoted as saying. “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. 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.”
But on Monday, Nutter said Kenney “opened his eyes” regarding the issue, though he added that the bill’s passage should not be interpreted as a condoning of marijuana use.
“This is about how we deal with penalties in that regard,” Nutter said. And there will be penalties. There’s a consequence to people violating the law.”
Kenney’s bill will be amended when the council returns from recess on Thursday and put to a vote in two weeks, where it is expected to pass again before being sent to Nutter for him to sign.
A Pennsylvania state Senate committee approved a bill legalizing medical marijuana use this past June. A vote on the bill by the state Senate and House is still pending. As Policy Mic reported, Kenney’s bill would make Philadelphia the largest city in the country to approve such a proposal.
[Image: “Young Woman Smoking Indoors At A Window,” via Shutterstock]