BIGGIE SMALLS' "Ready to Die" was playing on the radio of a 1987 Buick somewhere in the woods of Delaware County when N.A. Poe did it for the first time.

Chris Goldstein was at a Quaker youth retreat in Cape May when he did it for the first time on the beach.

Nearly two decades after both men first smoked pot, they planted the seeds for decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana here in Philadelphia.

The buddies found fertile ground in then-Councilman Jim Kenney, and with him on board as their "stallion," the city passed an ordinance decriminalizing up to 30 grams, or about an ounce, of weed. That took effect Oct. 20.

"We worked on actual reform and got s--- done with no money," Poe said, while puffing on a joint. "And the city is not on fire. That is a good thing."

There's more than an ounce of truth to the claims of advocates like Goldstein, Poe and Kenney that arrests for marijuana possession - yes, people can still get arrested for possessing marijuana - have dramatically dropped since the ordinance took effect.

But although arrests have declined by about 76 percent, according to Police Department statistics, racial disparity of those cited for using marijuana - one of the main driving forces behind the ordinance - still exists.

Not so black and white

Before decriminalization, black marijuana users were arrested at five times the rate of white ones, according to the ordinance passed by City Council.

Although the racial disparity appears to have improved slightly since decriminalization, black people are still getting cited at 2 1/2 times the rate of white people under the new ordinance, according to statistics provided by Philadelphia police.

Kenney said the disparity may stem from "an unfortunate" city policy.

"I think if you have a policy of stop-and-frisk, you're going to have that," he said. "I've never been stopped and frisked in my life."

Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey said the department is "not keeping a scorecard on a particular ethnic group."

"If you're in violation, you're in violation," he said. "Unfortunately, crimes occur in some instances at a higher rate in some areas of our city as opposed to others."

But department statistics on marijuana citations don't capture the full picture. Initially, police told the Daily News that only 59 citations were written under the new ordinance from the date it became effective until Jan. 31.

But when the Daily News checked with the Office of Administrative Review, which processes the citations and fines, that office reported that 190 citations were written for possession of a small amount of marijuana or public use of the substance between Oct. 20 and Jan. 31.

That's a difference of 131 citations.

"I think these are the kinks of working out a new system and trying to capture something you've never captured before," said Lt. John Stanford, police spokesman.

Stanford said the OAR's statistics were more complete. He offered two theories for the discrepancy.

The first is that other departments, like SEPTA Transit Police or Temple University Police, also might be issuing citations under the new ordinance. The OAR would process those citations, but Philly police would have no way of tracking them.

The second theory is that officers have never had to track citations like these before, as they do arrests, so although cops are recording the number of citations on logs and filing them, they may not all be reporting them correctly.

Stanford said the department is working to rectify the situation.

Where are pot smokers?

Going by OAR citation numbers and department arrest stats, far fewer people overall are being found with marijuana - or police just aren't citing them as they used to arrest them.

Logic would dictate that the number of citations and arrests after decriminalization took effect should be relatively on par with the number of arrests that took place before it went into effect, but that's not the case.

In the three full months since the ordinance took effect - November and December 2014 and January of this year - 151 citations were issued and 189 people were arrested for possessing less than 30 grams of marijuana, according to the OAR and police.

That's a total of 340 people cited or arrested compared with 778 people who were arrested for possession of marijuana in the same time period the previous year.

That's a difference of 438 people, and nobody knows where all those pot smokers - or the cops who arrested them - went.

"The numbers are what they are," Ramsey said.

Kenney said he doesn't have an answer for why police aren't writing the citations.

"We on the civilian side of the government just tried to get the law right," he said. "How it's enforced is the purview of the Police Department."

Poe has his own theory.

"This is what I think: A lot of the police I've talked to off the record don't give a s--- about pot," he said. "The minute you take it off the plate, they don't give a s--- anymore unless you're blowing smoke in a cop's face."

SAM I am

Before decriminalization, Philadelphia was the only municipality in the state still physically arresting people for small amounts of marijuana, Kenney said.

According to the ordinance passed by City Council, more than 4,000 people were arrested each year in Philly for possessing an ounce or less of pot.

Kenney said his staff determined that those arrests took up 17,000 hours of police time a year.

"And they were never landing in court anyway," Kenney said.

That's because in 2010, after listening to prosecutors who were frustrated with the amount of effort it took to prosecute cannabis cases that didn't result in prison time, District Attorney Seth Williams developed the Small Amounts of Marijuana (SAM) court, said Derek Riker, chief of diversion courts for the District Attorney's Office.

"The amount of resources we were spending wasn't worth the bang for the buck," Riker said.

In the SAM court, anyone arrested with 30 grams or less of weed agrees to pay $200 to take a three- to four-hour class, after which the charge is expunged.

About 3,000 people a year went through SAM court, Riker said, and the court did not require a prosecutor. A paralegal was sent to oversee cases.

"We've taken thousands of cases out of a trial room," he said.

'Oh wow, I love weed!'

Goldstein, co-chairman of the board of directors of Philly NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws) and a marijuana blogger for Philly.com, the website for the Daily News and Inquirer, met Poe, a comedian with the comedy troupe the Panic Hour, at Occupy Philadelphia.

"He was into weed reform, and I was like, 'Oh, wow, I love weed!' " said Poe, 35, whose real name is Richard Tamaccio. "Chris became my mentor, in a Miyagi way."

In December 2012, the two organized a year of protests of federal marijuana prohibition they called "Smoke Downs." During the protests, people smoked marijuana on Independence Mall in civil disobedience.

Both men were arrested and charged with smoking marijuana on federal land.

Richard Goldberg, chief of the economic-crimes section with the U.S. Attorney's Office, was on site for some of the rallies.

"As far as I know, nobody in the marijuana movement says, 'Smoke marijuana in elementary schools!' but that's who comes to the national parks," Goldberg said. "So, come and demonstrate but take the marijuana somewhere else, where there's not kids."

Upon their convictions, both men were sentenced to probation - Poe for a year, which he's already served, and Goldstein for two, which he is still serving. While on probation, the men cannot smoke marijuana.

Goldstein, 38, is having more vivid dreams and smoking more cigarettes now.

"I also had to turn down a joint from Willie Nelson," he said. "That was probably the worst part so far."

'Widely known secret'

Fired up from the Smoke Downs, Goldstein and Poe took a shot at lobbying city government for marijuana reform.

Community activist Anne Gemmell introduced the men to Kenney, then a Council member.

What struck Kenney most, he said, was the "glaring and egregious" figure they presented him that 83 percent of the people arrested for marijuana possession in Philadelphia were black.

Aside from the racial disparity, Kenney said the idea that people were getting saddled with criminal records that might prevent them from obtaining financial aid, entering the military or getting a job was counterproductive.

When he did decide to champion decriminalization, Kenney said, he didn't worry about the stigma associated with pot.

"It's kind of like the most widely known secret in the country," he said.

Poe said Kenney was "just like a stallion for us," and getting the ordinance passed was easier than he expected.

"I would have tried it earlier if I would have known that was something I could have done," he said. "It was surprising how much support we had, and when we found out it was going through, we were like 'Whoa.' "

Still can get bagged

Under the new ordinance, people found in possession of 30 grams or less of marijuana are written a citation, often referred to as a CVN (code violation notice), and are required to pay a $25 fine. Anyone publicly caught smoking marijuana is fined $100.

In both instances, officers are to seize any marijuana a person has in his possession.

According to a Police Department memorandum, if an individual cited for either offense is lucky enough to be a city employee, that person's supervisor must also be notified.

There are several ways someone can still be arrested for possessing a small amount of marijuana: if that person is caught in the act of buying marijuana; if he or she is found driving under the influence of marijuana; if the marijuana is laced with other drugs or if he or she is arrested for a more serious crime along with marijuana possession.

In addition, citizens found in possession of small amounts of marijuana can still be detained and taken to a police district if they refuse to provide an officer with a name or provide a false identity; if he or she becomes combative; if the officer is unsure of the weight of the marijuana; or if the person in question is a juvenile.

One benefit of decriminalization that was touted by advocates was that it would lead to improved relationships between the community and police.

Ramsey said he hasn't noticed any change.

"And I'm not looking for it," he said. "I don't know if you can draw that kind of conclusion. I don't know if that theory was based on anything when the law was being changed."

Ramsey said he also hasn't seen massive amounts of police time or costs saved because of the ordinance.

"We have had success in terms of lowering crime in Philadelphia prior to this legislation being passed," he said. "To say that we're going to be able to do a more effective job afterward is too soon to tell."

Goldstein disagrees.

"There's no other issue where you can eliminate this number of arrests. We don't want to do that for heroin. We don't want to do that for gun crimes or domestic violence," he said. "It only makes sense for this issue because it's been overcriminalized anyway."

Ramsey said possession of small amounts of marijuana is not an issue he's raised as co-chairman of the president's Task Force on 21st Century Policing.

"It may be a national issue, but it's not one we're talking about because we have 90 days to come up with recommendations of issues surrounding police use of force," he said. "This is not one we put on a priority list thinking it was one we needed to address."

In his own way, Poe agreed.

"It's not something that should be discussed in 21st-century policing," he said. "It should be left in the 20th century, where it belongs."

'Dope with the Pope'

For his part, Kenney, who gets a lot more high-fives on the streets these days, said he's pleased with the outcome of decriminalization.

"I'm very happy that young people in our city will not be saddled with the lifelong burden of an arrest record," he said.

Although Kenney has said the ordinance will save $4 million in police costs and $3 million in court costs, those figures aren't hard and fast.

"There's a scientific guess we're making as to what this will no longer cost us," he said.

Riker, of the District Attorney's Office, said the ordinance has had "very minimal impact on our office" and any costs saved are "negligible."

The SAM court is still operating, taking those who were arrested before the ordinance and those who are arrested in the act of buying a small amount of marijuana. The court has dropped from five days a week to three because the caseload has dropped from about 55 people a week to 11, Riker said.

As for Poe and Goldstein, they're pleased and looking forward to what's next.

"This decriminalization is really empowering. I'm smoking marijuana outside of the [Democratic National Convention] in 2016," Poe said. "And I'm definitely going to smoke with the pope. I'm calling it 'Dope with the Pope.'

"Put that in your pope and smoke it."

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