City mayor Michael Nutter announced today that he will sign municipal legislation into law decriminalizing marijuana possession penalties.
Under the measure, penalties pertaining to the possession of up to one ounce of cannabis would be reduced from a criminal misdemeanor to a non-summary civil offense, punishable by a $25 fine – no arrest and no criminal record.
Members of the City Council in June voted 13 to 3 to reduce municipal marijuana penalties. A slightly amended version of this proposal is anticipated to be before the mayor by the end of this month. The revised language is expected to take effect on October 20.
Anyone cited under the pending ordinance would be required to make an appearance before a Municipal Court judge, but would not face criminal charges or a criminal record. Those caught smoking marijuana in public would face a $100 fine, which could be waived if the defendant agreed to perform several hours of public service.
Philadelphia NORML had long lobbied in support of a change in the city’s criminal classification of marijuana possession offenses. A 2013 review of marijuana arrest data by the organization reported that African Americans are arrested in Philadelphia for minor marijuana violations at five times the rate of whites despite both races consuming the substance at nearly equal rates.
“This will go a long way toward a much more saner and a much better policy for people in Philadelphia,” said Chris Goldstein, PhillyNORML co-chair. “This is something that should have happened earlier in the summer. It would have alleviated almost 1,000 people getting arrested.”
It remains to be seen to what extent local police will enforce the new ordinance, once enacted. In past statements, Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey had publicly pledged to ignore the ordinance, stating, “State law trumps city ordinances.”
[UPDATE! It is now being reported that Chief Ramsey is on board with the amended ordinance.]