Earlier this month, Philadelphia mayor Michael Nutter confirmed that he has agreed to sign a bill into law that will decriminalize marijuana possession in the city. With a population of 1.5 million people, this will make it the largest city in the United States to decriminalize the drug. As it stands now, Philadelphia County, which consists entirely of the city of Philadelphia, has the strictest marijuana laws in Pennsylvania. It’s the only county in the state that puts every single weed offender in handcuffs and brings criminal charges against them. It also has the highest population of Black people in a state known for rural White residents clinging to their religion and their guns.
City Councilman Jim Kenney introduced the bill because of the negative effects he was seeing pot arrests inflicting on the Black community. Black people in Philadelphia make up about 49 percent of the population, but of the 4,336 people for marijuana possession last year, 83 percent of them were Black. Simply having the smallest amount of marijuana will currently get the offender charged with a drug offense and a criminal record doesn’t go away. So for 18 and 19-year-olds, old enough to be adults and young enough to be prone to making silly mistakes, a petty drug charge can alter the the course of their entire lives. Mayor Nutter, who is Black, said that the introduction of this bill by Kenney (who is White) opened his eyes to the devastation that these arrests causes in the Black community.
Really, Nutter? You were unaware that Black people in your city are being disproportionately arrested on marijuana charges? You didn’t realize how this had impacted thousands of individuals and their families?
With the new law, anyone caught with 30 grams or less of marijuana will receive a $25 fine. They will not be arrested and there will not be any criminal charges. Anyone caught actually smoking will have to pay a $100 fine or do community service.
According to Kenney, this will keep more than 4000 people out of jail each year and will save the police department about $4 million.
“There will be no criminal record for an individual. And that’s a major step,” Kenney said. “We have so many people that we are putting in the prison pipeline, and the poverty pipeline, because a criminal record is a debilitating thing.”
Here’s what a few people around Philadelphia have to say about the new law:
Fareeda Mabry, 36, Political Campaign Consultant
“There are so many worse things to worry about than Marijuana. Cigarettes, soda, sugary foods and alcohol are all much more dangerous to your health than marijuana, yet the jails are full of marijuana smokers and not one Pepsi distributor is in there. The only real danger people face from marijuana is the law. I’m really hoping that this decriminalization will actually free up the Philadelphia police to deal with real crime in our streets. The homicide rate in this city is out of control so, if the hours saved by not having to process all of those non-violent offenders actually translates to more police on the street, then it’s a win-win.”
Mister Mann Frisby, 39, Author
“I understand the big picture implications in regards to saving time and resources. However, Philadelphia is one of the filthiest cities on the planet. I think the $25 fine is laughable. Make offenders clean up glass and trash from playgrounds, paint walls, or volunteer their services somewhere. If you want to roll up, that’s fine. But the block you live on should not look like a dumpster exploded on it.”
Bryce Carr, 25, Glass Pipe Artist
“Decriminalization on the East Coast had to be the best idea in a long time. As a glass pipe artist, it’ll mean more income and more happy customers. Personally, I’m glad to see it become [decriminalized]. I feel like it’ll really help Black and Latino males especially. It may be that little thing that keeps people from entering the prison system. Philly is really making progress and keeping the non-violent offenders out of jail. Now, I won’t have to worry about being jailed over a plant just because other people consider it dangerous. If employers begin to allow THC in their employees’ systems, maybe everyone will stop worrying about not being able to get a job because they use pot on their free time. If they tested for alcohol most people wouldn’t be able to keep a job.”
Misha Palmer, 42, Mother
“It’s good to legalize or decriminalize weed. This’ll keep the kids out of jail. All the boys around here in their 20s have trouble finding jobs because most of them have criminal records. And it always starts from them getting a weed charge when they’re 18. I feel like every boy in this neighborhood got a weed charge at 18. That’s gonna stay with them their whole lives.”
Tahira Barfield, 24, Nurse
“Now people are just gonna be free to walk around with weed. People around here aren’t even gonna worry about those fines. Twenty-five dollars? A hundred if you’re smoking? Come on! I think it’s gonna get crazy ‘cause everybody’s gonna be having weed everywhere. Philly is gonna be like The Purge.“
Khalil Breedlove, 18, Student
“I think that for Philly, it’ll be a better thing for people to not get charged with anything because for one, I think there’s a lot of confusion about weed versus alcohol. Weed calms you down, while alcohol increases your violent side. But alcohol is accessible everywhere and they’re putting people in jail for smoking. This will bring a peace of mind to people smoking who know they won’t be arrested and don’t have to look over their shoulder.
I have a lot of friends who got caught and in trouble and have messed their lives up just because of a little weed. So, I think it’s a good move by the city.”
Alexes Johnson, 46, Contractor
“Decriminalizing weed will make me feel like the police will have less of a motivation to stop and frisk because there’ll be less of a chance they will find something worth locking you up for. I don’t smoke, but I do get stopped and frisked, so maybe this will help me not have to deal with the police so often. We’ll see how this plays out because who knows how the police will act in any given situation.”
Penelope Johnson, 33, Fashion Designer
“I’d like to go in a time capsule and come out in 50 years and see people laughing at how ridiculous this conversation that we’re having now is. There is no reason for weed to be illegal in the first place. I hope that this change in the law will lead to more changes and eventually the end of the stigmatization of marijuana around Philly. It’s viewed and treated as a dangerous and toxic drug, but it’s really not. A lot of people only have a negative view of weed because it’s illegal. Hopefully, changes in the law will swing those people’s opinions around to the right side… but it’s hard to change people’s minds. We still may have to wait a whole generation for that.”
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EBONY.com Contributing Writer