Philadelphia to Decriminalize Marijuana

The city of brotherly love has just gotten a lot more loving. Philadelphia’s Mayor Michael Nutter confirmed that on Monday, September 15, he will sign into law a bill which decriminalizes marijuana. The bill will institute a $25 fine for simple possession of 30 grams or fewer instead of jail time. Once the bill is signed, it will go into effect on October 20.

The signing of this bill marks a huge turnaround in Nutter’s position on marijuana. Initially, he was staunchly opposed to the measure, as indicated when he told quoted CBS News, “People in this city … come up to me all the time asking about jobs … No one has come up to me asking, ‘Can you make it easier for me to stand on a street corner in front of some grandma’s house and smoke my joint?’”

Nutter initially balked at the idea that marijuana arrests were disproportionately affecting the black Americans. He went as far as saying it was “insulting to the African American community.” However, as time progressed, Nutter examined the issue further, thanks to the efforts of Councilman Jim Kenney, the bill’s author, and he realized the harmful effects of criminalizing marijuana.

While Nutter was on board with the idea of reducing marijuana penalties, he took issue with the fact that the bill only fined marijuana users $25, which he called too simplistic. This led many to worry that Nutter would veto the bill. Thankfully, at the end of the day, compromise trumped personal politics.

In order to get the bill signed, Nutter and Kenney reached a compromise where those caught with marijuana would still pay a $25 fine, but they would have to appear in court to pay it and the infraction would not appear on their record. Nutter was also able to put a provision into the bill which would levy a $100 fine for smoking marijuana in public.

Despite the comprises made, Councilman Kenney praised the bill as a victory for Philadelphia in a public statement. “There will be no criminal record for an individual. And that’s a major step.” According to the Huffington Post, by decriminalizing marijuana, the city of Philadelphia will have 4,000 fewer arrests and save over $4 million a year.

When Mayor Nutter signs this bill into law, Philadelphia will become the largest US city to decriminalize marijuana. While one city decriminalizing marijuana doesn’t sound like a big deal, it is when considering the broader implications. According to the 2010 census, over 80 percent of the US population lives in an urban areas.

By decriminalizing marijuana, Philadelphia sets the precedent for other cities; hopefully, 80 percent of the US population will follow.  While this act won’t tear down the wall of prohibition, it definitely took a big brick out of it. The fight for recreational cannabis has not been won, but we are slowly getting ahead and that is something to celebrate.

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