Pubdate: Tue, 27 Jun 2017
Source: Philadelphia Daily News (PA)
Copyright: 2017 Philadelphia Newspapers Inc.
Author: By Stephanie Farr, Daily News Staff Writer



In fact, since decriminalization took effect, police have cited 73
percent fewer people than they arrested for possessing weed during the
same time period in the year prior to decriminalization.

And if mayoral candidate Jim Kenney has his way, citations for
marijuana users may become a thing of the past, too.

"I'm not interested in issuing citations, either. We'll get to that
conversation at the appropriate time next year," Kenney told the Daily
News. "As time goes on, I don't know if there's going to be a need for
any kind of punishment."

As a councilman, Kenney championed the decriminalization bill. He said
he did so because Philadelphia was the only municipality in the state
still physically arresting people for possessing a small amount of
weed and the city was arresting black pot smokers at five times the
rate of white ones.

"I think it's pretty hypocritical in a state that licenses, sells and
taxes alcohol - that actually runs alcohol-dispensing stores - to say
that marijuana rises to the level of an opiate," Kenney said. "It's
not necessary, productive or good for the community."

On top of the racial disparities and custodial arrests, Kenney said
that otherwise law-abiding citizens were getting saddled with an
arrest record that might prevent them from obtaining employment,
entering the military or getting financial aid.

"Now, one year later, there's literally thousands of people without a
criminal record," Kenney said. "That's many more people who aren't in
the criminal-justice system and have a better chance of getting a job."

According to statistics provided by the Police Department, 3,686
people were arrested for pot possession between Oct. 1, 2013, and Oct.
19, 2014.

 From Oct. 20, 2014, to Sept. 5, 2015 - the most recent date for which
department statistics are available - just 1,012 people were cited for
possessing or smoking a small amount of marijuana.

Of those cited over the past year, 170 received a $100 citation for
smoking in public and 842 received a $25 citation for possessing under
30 grams of marijuana, according to statistics from the Police
Department and the city's Office of Administrative Review.

Police are still arresting people for possessing a small amount
marijuana, too - but only if they are caught in the act of buying it,
if they are found driving under the influence of it, if they are found
in possession of other drugs along with pot or if they are arrested
for another offense on top of marijuana possession, a police
spokeswoman said.

For recording purposes, those marijuana arrest numbers are lumped in
with the people who are arrested for possessing more than 30 grams of
marijuana, the spokeswoman said.

The Police Department could not immediately provide the number of
people arrested for marijuana possession over the past year. A look at
the state's online Uniform Crime Reporting System, however, shows that
625 adults and 114 juveniles were arrested by Philly police for some
form of marijuana possession between November 2014 and September 2015.

When the number of citations issued is added in with the number of
arrests, instances where police arrested or cited someone for
possessing marijuana are down 52 percent over the previous year.

For Chris Goldstein and N.A. Poe, the marijuana activists who lobbied
Kenney to get the bill passed, the stats are promising.

"Kudos to the Philadelphia Police Department for evolving," Poe said.
"Whether you like them or not . . . the fact that they kind of went
along with this is a great thing."

Goldstein, co-chairman of the board of directors of Philly NORML
(National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws) and a
marijuana blogger for, said there was one thing that struck
him about the statistics.

"The citations were not nearly at the level that the arrests used to
be, which was kind of a surprise," Goldstein said. "It seems that
marijuana possession has taken on a lower priority now that it's
become a civil citation."

Goldstein has a theory why: He cited news stories out of New York City
earlier this month that said that when police Commissioner William
Bratton caught a woman smoking a joint on Wall Street, he took the
joint, threw it in a sewer and went on his way, without arresting or
citing the woman.

"Here's the police chief of New York City and he is taking that
approach to someone using marijuana," Goldstein said. "That's what
we're likely seeing here on the streets of Philadelphia."

Lt. John Stanford, police spokesman, had another theory. He said a new
diversionary program at city schools dictates that children found in
violation of lower-level offenses while at school - such as marijuana
possession or theft - are being placed into a diversionary program
now, instead of being arrested or cited.

"So a large decrease you may see is in that aspect, with our
juveniles," Stanford said.

Among the factors that aren't captured on the new marijuana citations
are race, age and sex, so it's impossible to determine whether racial
disparity still exists. In a statement, the department said it is
working to resolve the issue.

When it comes to paying the citations, only 275 of the 1,012 people
who have been cited have paid up, according to the city's Office of
Administrative Review.

South Philly resident Sam Weinrott, 26, wants to do something about
those figures. Together with a friend, he came up with "Free Weed
Philly," a fund to pay off the fines of those hit with marijuana
citations in the city.

Though not up and running yet, Weinrott has secured the FreeWeedPhilly
domain name and said he intends to start a crowdfunding page - where
suggested donations will be $4.20.

Weinrott said he never wants anyone to have to choose between paying
their fine and buying more marijuana.

"It would be so great for that guy who gets cited," Weinrott said.
"He'd be like, 'My pot-smoking brethren have my back!' "

So what's next for pot activists in Philly - and Pennsylvania?

Goldstein would like to see the Philadelphia model of
decriminalization replicated in other cities across the state. Many
municipalities still criminally charge people, even though they don't
physically arrest them.

"Once other cities adopt this ordinance, I think it will compel the
Legislature to do it statewide," he said.

Poe would like to take it a step further.

"My frustrations with the current medical-marijuana bill in Harrisburg
have led me to believe that Philadelphia should secede, in a
cannabis-related capacity, from Pennsylvania," he said.

As for Kenney, while he thinks the "overall intent" of
decriminalization has been met, he believes "we still have a ways to

"I intend, in January, if I'm successful, to get [marijuana citation
and arrest] numbers down even more," he said. "I think ultimately, at
some point in time, this should not even be an issue."

As for Poe, when he looks to the future of marijuana reform, he thinks
of his yet-to-be-born kids.

"I'm hoping that when I have children they can have their 21st
birthdays in a cannabis club instead of a bar," Poe said. "There would
be so much less puke on the streets of Philadelphia."
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