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Arresting at Odds: Philadelphia’s New Marijuana Climate

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Shared by: Cannabis Now Magazine

By Sonia Talati

Arresting at Odds: Philadelphia’s New Marijuana Climate

In Pennsylvania, where root beer started, freedom-inspired bars run rampant and the Liberty Bell silently rings, a new type of ordained independence sounds for marijuana users and enforcers. In June, the Philadelphia City Council passed Bill 140377, reducing penalties for marijuana possession from the possibility of jail time to handwritten tickets. Over 300 people have already benefited from the initiative, which took effect in October.According to reports, residents have been penalized with $25 fines as opposed to ding marks on their permanent records for stashes adding up to less than an ounce of marijuana.

The Pennsylvania Uniform Crime Reporting System showed a total of over 4,300 arrests for marijuana possession in 2013, a number that experts predict will largely decline in this year’s tally. Already from October to November, 20 new tickets were issued and 72 arrests were made — that’s a 78 percent decline from the same period last year. According to the Philadelphia Magazine, the city spent $3 million and dedicated 17,000 police hours on small amount of marijuana possession arrests alone. Those resources will now hopefully free up with the new sanctions.

However, if marijuana were to legalize on a federal level, the challenge would become reversing the lack of enforcement. Take Colorado, for example, where marijuana has long been decriminalized. In fact, the task force assembling the now legalized industry requested the state to create a new Marijuana Enforcement Division, funded by General Fund revenue for at least the next five years.

“We have run short of funds, scaling down our regulatory enforcement. If there was one thing I would want to change for the future of this industry, it’s the funding mechanism,” admitted Ron Kammerzell, senior director of Colorado’s Medical Marijuana Enforcement Division.

Despite the changes in legislation, some residents in Philadelphia are still getting arrested for possessing marijuana and continue to be demographically targeted. Last year, 83 percent of marijuana-possession arrests were of African-Americans, according the City Paper, which mapped every marijuana arrest for three years, with more males handcuffed than females, an 8-to-1 ratio. The disparity persists but at a much smaller absolute scale.

For now, the ripple effect remains with more time for police to crack down on serious crime, such as homicides, robberies and aggravated assaults in inundated areas, including North Philadelphia and some southeastern parts, which continue to remain the country’s 12 most dangerous places.

Philadelphia is the largest U.S. city to decriminalize marijuana possession. However, the same patterns tend to follow after such bills pass. In Massachusetts for example, arrests for small amounts of marijuana dropped by 80 percent, said the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice. D.C., New York and 15 other states also implemented minor traffic violation procedures for marijuana, leaving much to think about what to do with the freed up resources.

Sonia was a reporter and researcher with the group that launched the WSJ. Money magazine and collaborated with WSJ Live, The Wall Street Journal’s video team. She has experience as an anchor, reporter and producer in local television news. She studied economics and mass communications at UCLA and completed her master’s in business and economics journalism at Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.
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