(PhillyNORML: Chris Goldstein & Derek Rosenzweig) Philadelphia could save more than $3,000,000 annually by not taking pot smokers in for mugshots.
Minor marijuana possession arrests in Philadelphia are handled with mandatory custody; this is a different process than every other county in Pennsylvania costing the city millions of dollars. A disproportionate number of citizens (84%) arrested for marijuana possession in the city are black.
Research by PhillyNORML this year has uncovered these two disturbing trends that present serious challenges to the city. But in a sign of a pragmatic shift in attitudes, city officials have held an ongoing dialogue with reform advocates to proactively address these concerns.
In March of 2009 the Philadelphia chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws performed their annual observation of the Pennsylvania Uniform Crime Report data for the marijuana arrest numbers. At the same time, the city was beginning to face a heartbreaking economic plight that pitted police jobs against a lack of Public Safety Budget funds.
Data indicates that 4,716 adults were arrested in 2008 on the singular criminal misdemeanor charge of marijuana possession less than 30 grams. In Philadelphia such arrests are required to be custodial. For even a single cannabis joint this means an offender must be handcuffed, transported to a holding cell, photographed and perhaps make bail before release. In every other county in Pennsylvania there is no mandate for the custodial arrest of citizens found with small amounts of marijuana. Instead, summary violations are issued along with a date to appear in court.
PhillyNORML is a sterling example of how ordinary cannabis consumers can band together under the NORML banner and affect real change at the local level. Reformers at the national level don’t have the on-the-ground knowledge of local politics like everyday citizens living in cities like Philadelphia. Local reformers can better cultivate personal relationships with mayors, city councils, and all their staff, as well as integrate with groups as disparate as unions and libertarian groups, parents and police, and churches and universities.
If you’re sitting around wondering when they are going to legalize pot, you’re part of the problem. YOU have to legalize pot. You and your like-minded pot smokers, cannabis consumers, medical marijuana patients, and lovers of liberty, peaceably assembled to exercise your free speech and to petition your government for a redress of grievances… there’s nothing more American than being NORML.