Nutter gives actual, specific date for marijuana decriminalization
The Mayor and City Council have agreed on amendments to the decriminalization bill, and it's expected to go into effect before Halloween.
"Marijuana has been a hullaballo, bugaboo issue for years," said Councilman Jim Kenney at a joint announcement with Mayor Michael Nutter this afternoon that they had come to an agreement on amendments to Bill 140377, which would decriminalize marijuana in the city of Philadelphia. Though this isn't the "legalize and tax it" solution Kenney hopes for someday, with the Mayor's support behind the idea (Nutter has been somewhat wishy-washy about marijuana in the past), it looks like Philly is pulling back from the drug war at least a little bit.
Kenney said City Council would start work on passing it when it reconvenes tomorrow and Nutter would start work on figuring out implementation. Nutter even gave an actual working date that, if there were no hangups, the amended legislation would go into effect: Monday, October 20.
"I want to stress that the proposed amendments do not legalize marijuana," said Nutter. "The bill decriminalizes penalties for marijuana possession. That means it will now be a civil penalty to be found with small amounts of marijuana, and will not result in an arrest or a criminal record."
After Oct. 20, People found with up to 30g of marijuana by Philly police will, in theory, get a $25 ticket rather than arrested. The major amendment made to the bill so that both Council and Nutter could agree on it is that the punishment for smoking weed in public, while still civil rather than criminal, would be a $100 ticket. However, anyone stopped for marijuana possession or use can still be arrested for: selling it, having more than about an ounce of it, driving while high, refusing to show ID or "not cooperating."
Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey was not on hand for the announcement ("He's traveling," said Nutter); Deputy Commissioner Richard Ross Jr. was on hand, but didn't speak. Ramsey has historically been less than 100% supportive of decriminalization, though his position has gone from early interest when the bill was first introduced to a harder line. City Paper reported in June:
Drug warriors like Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey plan to resist [the decriminalization bill], telling the Inquirer, "we still have to treat it as a misdemeanor."
Back in January, Ramsey said he was "in favor of being able to write a citation for minor possession as opposed to actually having a physical arrest taking officers off the street." Ramsey told me that he changed his mind after consulting with District Attorney Seth Williams and the city courts.
The DA was also absent from the announcement.
There were questions about whether the police would have the option to choose to enforce state rather than city law and treat violations as criminal rather than civil, and we'll have to see what Ramsey and Williams have to say. But we wanted to get this up right now. Because it means that nothing like this will happen here.