Marijuana arrests in Philly are down 73 percent in the first six months of 2015 compared to the same period last year. This is thanks to the decriminalization policy that went into place last fall.
From January to June there were just 465 adults and juveniles put into handcuffs for a small amount of cannabis. The same period in 2014 saw 1,681 pot arrests.
This has contributed to one of the biggest declines in overall arrests the city has seen in the last six years.
According to an article in the Inquirer this week even PPD spokesman Lt. John Stanford gave some credit to the decrim policy.
Police now have the option of issuing a civil citation for those caught with less than 30 grams of weed. The tickets come with a fine of $25 for possession and $100 for smoking in public.
According to the Office of Administrative Review (OAR) from January to April 2015 there were 270 marijuana citations issued. Just 26 were for lighting up in public.
The policy was proposed for years by PhillyNORML but found traction when mayoral candidate Jim Kenney championed the issue while he served on City Council.
This has meant a big change in how police and cannabis consumers interact.
Before the decrim policy was implemented in October of 2014 Philadelphia Police put everyone caught with anything from a roach to an ounce into handcuffs and a holding cell. On average, there were between 250 and 300 custodial arrests for weed every single month.
The Small Amount of Marijuana (SAM) program instituted in 2010 by District Attorney Seth Williams, kept most of these cases out of criminal court. Completing the SAM program let offenders take a class and then plead guilty to a disorderly persons offense. Before SAM pot offenders also had to make bail and often sat in a holding cell for days until arraignment.
Still, the arrest itself saddled the individual with a permanent record. Such arrests could affect employment, college loans, housing and other factors years down the road.
The civil citations do not come with a record.
That means those cited can honestly answer "no" if they are asked on application forms if they have been arrested for a drug violation.
Another important factor is that the decrim policy applies to both adults and juveniles.
The new policy has now kept more than 1,200 people from getting caught up in the criminal justice system over a joint. So far this has saved the city more than $1.5 million dollars.
Also, most of those arrested for weed in Philly were young black men. National data has always shown that more white people consume cannabis.
Unfortunately the disparity has not gone away in the remaining arrests. Of the 465 arrested in the first six months of 2015 black residents accounted for 384 while just 81 white residents ended up in cuffs for weed. That's a 5 to 1 ratio.
There is no statistical or procedural reason to explain the race factor with marijuana law enforcement.
Leaders like President Obama have weighed in on the national discussion about institutional racism in criminal justice system. Decriminalizing marijuana has, so far, kept more than 1,000 black residents out of jail. This has tangibly done something to help with a solution. But we have much further to go.