PHILADELPHIA — Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter signed a bill into law today that replaces criminal penalties for possession of small amounts of marijuana with a civil fine, similar to a traffic ticket. After stalling for much of the summer, the mayor agreed to sign a compromise bill approved by the Philadelphia City Council on September 18. The new ordinance will take effect on October 20, 2014.
The initial version of the bill approved by the council on June 19 makes possession of up to one ounce of marijuana a civil offense punishable by a $25 fine. Following negotiations between Mayor Nutter and members of the council, the bill was amended to include a $100 fine for public consumption. Current Philadelphia law requires police officers to make custodial arrests when they encounter people in possession of any amount of marijuana, and possession of up to one ounce of marijuana is punishable by up to 90 days in jail, a $200 fine, and compulsory participation in a drug treatment program. Under current Pennsylvania state law, possession of up to 30 grams of marijuana is a misdemeanor, punishable by up to 30 days in jail and a fine of up to $500.
“Philadelphia voters and their elected city officials are fed up with laws that criminalize people for possessing a substance that is less harmful than alcohol,” said Rachelle Yeung, legislative analyst for the Marijuana Policy Project. “They disproportionately impact communities of color and do nothing to make people safer. We applaud city officials for taking this important step toward a more sensible marijuana policy. It is time for the rest of the state to follow its lead.”
There were 5,598 arrests for simple marijuana possession in Philadelphia in 2010, according to a report released by the American Civil Liberties Union, which is the most recent year for which data is available. Blacks accounted for 82% of arrests despite using marijuana at similar rates as whites.