The grass really is greener on the other side of marijuana decriminalization in Philadelphia, according to hundreds of enthusiasts Thursday who celebrated the second anniversary of decriminalization by smoking en masse at a "Pop-Up Weed Garden" near the Art Museum.
"Everyone is here. Young and old alike. Black and white," said Nicole Branconi, 36, of Lansdale, of the free-form event. "They should do this every year. It brings people together."
Earlier Thursday, Chris Goldstein, co-chairman of the board of Philly NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws), presented an oversize, symbolic check for $9 million signed by "Mary Jane" to Mayor Kenney's deputy chief of staff, Steve Preston, who happily accepted it on Kenney's behalf.
Goldstein claims that $9 million is the amount that marijuana decriminalization has saved the city.
"We hope he hangs it on his wall as a reminder of the good deed he did while on Council," Goldstein said of the check.
It was Goldstein and fellow activist N.A. Poe who had lobbied Kenney, then a city councilman, for the law change. Kenney championed the bill because the city was the only municipality in the state still conducting custodial arrests for pot and because black marijuana smokers were being arrested at five times the rate of whites.
On Oct. 20, 2014, instead of arresting people for marijuana, Philadelphia police began issuing $25 citations to those found in possession of an ounce or less and $100 citations to those found smoking it.
On Thursday, a few police officers mingled at the bottom of the steps of the Art Museum, a good distance from the 200 to 300 people gathered at a grassy, shady area near Eakins Oval.
The atmosphere was festival-like, with musicians playing together, strangers sitting in circles smoking together, and a man dressed in a giant cannabis-leaf costume dancing through the crowd.
A table of "munchies," including Skittles, guacamole, and donuts, was free to the crowd. People in Cheech & Chong and The Big Lebowski shirts stopped to take selfies with a real marijuana plant.
"Food and weed always bring people together," said Jamal Thomas, 28, of South Philly, who wore a pot-leaf necklace and held a Philly blunt.
Mike Velez, 33, of Northeast Philadelphia, said the two-year anniversary of marijuana decriminalization was a cause to be celebrated.
"The money that we're saving not putting people in jail is huge," Velez said. "Most importantly, a lot of young, black men aren't getting locked up anymore."
Karen Murphy, 59, of Drexel Hill, who attended the Pop-Up Weed Garden with her daughter, said she's "been a stoner since 1969."
Murphy now uses marijuana as an alternative to addictive opioids to ease her arthritis and symptoms she suffers as a result of a stroke and a brain aneurysm.
"I think this is fantastic," Murphy said of the Pop-Up Weed Garden. "It's a wonderful thing. It's peaceful and we're not hurting anyone."
Jake Maniette, 23, drummer for the Northeast Corners, a three-piece band that played at the event, said the celebration was a nice break from the tense election cycle.
"It's cool to see a peaceful event happening nowadays when things are getting so intense," he said. "It's good to smile."
For complete cannabis coverage go to to philly.com/cannabis