CITY COUNCIL today will consider final passage of Bill No. 140377, introduced by Councilman Jim Kenney, which would allow police to issue a $25 fine for the possession of a small amount of marijuana (under 1 ounce) instead of the current policy of mandatory custodial arrests. In 2012, the current policy led to the arrest of about 4,270 people for marijuana possession.
Under the Kenney bill, most of these people would ultimately be fined $25. The police would have 17,000 hours to do serious police work. The courts would not have to hear these cases. The D.A. would not have to try these cases. The families would not have to hire and pay lawyers to handle these cases. The city would not have to pay the Defender Association or other lawyers to represent indigent defendants in these cases. The defendants would not be at unnecessary risk of a criminal record and all the lifetime disadvantages that go with it.
We support Councilman Kenney's proposal and respectfully request members of Council consider doing the same.
Philadelphia is the only county in Pennsylvania that still handcuffs, jails and gives criminal arrest records to its citizens for marijuana possession.
Despite the fact that marijuana use is virtually identical across all ethnic and racial identities, 84 percent of the 4,272 arrests made solely for the possession of small amounts of marijuana in Philadelphia in 2012 involved African-Americans.
Councilman Kenney's proposal is not a solution to larger issues, such as the criminal justice system that negatively affects minority communities, but it is one step in the right direction - a step that would be unnecessary if officials in Harrisburg were more proactive and progressive.
We also know that public opinion is shifting rapidly on this topic. According to a February Quinnipiac University poll of registered Pennsylvania voters, 85 percent support the legalization of medical marijuana; 48 percent (the highest recorded number) support outright legalization; and 44 percent reported having tried marijuana themselves.
Philadelphia must take this opportunity to do more. The policy of mandatory arrests and possible criminal records for thousands of young people needs to end.
We believe this bill points Philadelphia in the right direction. We are pleased to support it and urge all Philadelphians to do likewise.
W. Wilson Goode Sr.
Mayor of Philadelphia (1984-92)
John F. Street
Mayor of Philadelphia (2001-08)