Philadelphia on the Verge of Decriminalizing Weed

By Shawn Dwyer 09/17/14

After initially scoffing at the idea, Mayor Michael Nutter has finally come to his senses and agreed to sign a bill decriminalizing pot.

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In the next couple of weeks, Philadelphia will become the largest U.S. city to decriminalize personal amounts of marijuana.

After initially opposing decriminalization, Mayor Michael A. Nutter has said that he will sign a bill sponsored by City Councilman James A. Kenney that would lessen punishment for people caught with small amounts of weed. Instead of prison, people caught with less than 30 grams—or about one ounce—would receive a fine of $25, while people caught smoking pot in public would be fined $100.

"This bill will not legalize marijuana. Rather, it will decriminalize marijuana, which means that offenses involving small amounts of marijuana will result in a civil penalty, not an arrest or criminal record,” Nutter said in a statement.

Councilman Kenney began the push to decriminalize marijuana after learning that of the 4,000 Philadelphians arrested each year for simple possession, over 83% have been black or Latino.

"It’s just not a fair situation. I think marijuana use is pretty even across most demographics, and arresting these young people for that reason and putting that weight around their neck to carry for the rest of their life doesn't make any sense," Kenney told the Los Angeles Times.

Back in August, Nutter—who is African-American—scoffed at such an argument to decriminalize marijuana as being "a bogus issue" and an "insult to the community, and even went so far as to say that the police did not target blacks or other minorities. But in recent days, Nutter has backed off that stance following Kenney's agreement to pass necessary amendments.

“We want to ensure that the punishment for using or possessing small amounts of marijuana is commensurate with the severity of the crime, while giving police officers the tools they need to protect the health and well-being of all Philadelphians,” Nutter said.

Once signed, the law will go into effect Oct. 20.

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Shawn Dwyer is a writer, editor and content producer living in Los Angeles. You can find him on Linkedin.