Four Months Into Philly Marijuana Decriminalization, Cops Still Writing Citations, Making Arrests

Decriminalization hasn't destroyed the city of Philadelphia, but only drug warriors would be surprised.


"It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia"/FX

Last year the Philadelphia City Council passed, and the mayor signed into law, an ordinance decriminalizing possession of up to an ounce of marijuana. Philadelphia, one of the last U.S. cities where police were still making arrests over small amounts of marijuana, became one of the first cities where the drug was decriminalized. The Philadelphia district attorney had set up a "Small Amounts of Marijuana" court to deal with all the arrests.

That court now meets only three times a week—still processing people arrested for possession before the ordinance went into effect and those arrested for allegedly trying to buy a small amount of marijuana. Under the ordinance possessing up to an ounce of marijuana leads to a $25 ticket and not an arrest, while smoking in public comes with a $100 ticket. reviewed the number of marijuana-related citations and arrests, finding that:

In the three full months since the ordinance took effect—November and December 2014 and January of this year—151 citations were issued and 189 people were arrested for possessing less than 30 grams of marijuana, according to the OAR [Office of Administrative Review] and police.

That's a total of 340 people cited or arrested compared with 778 people who were arrested for possession of marijuana in the same time period the previous year.

That's a difference of 438 people, and nobody knows where all those pot smokers—or the cops who arrested them—went.

"The numbers are what they are," Ramsey said.

Kenney said he doesn't have an answer for why police aren't writing the citations.

"We on the civilian side of the government just tried to get the law right," he said. "How it's enforced is the purview of the Police Department."

The libertarian activist N.A. Poe, who helped push for decriminalization in Philadelphia, suggests cops may not give as much of a shit about pot when its decriminalized. Some obviously still do.

According to police statistics, black residents are cited at more than two times the rate of whites.  The police commissioner, Charles Ramsey, insists his department isn't "keeping a scorecard on a particular ethnic group" and that "unfortunately, crimes occur in some instances at a higher rate in some areas of our city as opposed to others."

The article also chronicles how Poe and Chris Goldstein, co-chair of the board of NORML's Philly chapter, were introduced by a community activist to Councilman Jim Kinney, now running for mayor, who would help push thrrough decriminalizing marijuana in the city. reports:

When he did decide to champion decriminalization, Kenney said, he didn't worry about the stigma associated with pot.

"It's kind of like the most widely known secret in the country," he said.

Poe said Kenney was "just like a stallion for us," and getting the ordinance passed was easier than he expected.

"I would have tried it earlier if I would have known that was something I could have done," he said. "It was surprising how much support we had, and when we found out it was going through, we were like 'Whoa.' "

Philadelphia is hosting the pope this November and the Democratic National Convention next summer. Poe says he plans on smoking marijuana at both.

NEXT: Tonight in NYC: The Reason/Mediaite Happy Hour, Polar Vortex Edition

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Shocking

    1. Shut up, science bitch!

      1. I will not be harassed in my own private domicile!


  2. I’ve always wondered why there are certain dates these things take effect, instead of immediately.

    It seems immediately is the only just way to do this.

  3. I suspect one of the main reasons so many cops like mj being illegal is it gives them an excuse to hassle people. “I smelled weed” allows the officer justification for stopping whomever they want.

  4. The streets are flooded with the ejaculate of the homeless, and you people are counting on the police?

    1. +1 mini bat

  5. Big Business Cronies Ending Internet Freedom

    “[W]hen the FCC moves forward with regulating the internet, big businesses will be legally empowered to violate the free association rights of Internet service providers and compel subsidy from everyone else online.…..t-freedom/

  6. This is why I’ve never put any faith in decriminalization. That means it’s not legal and there are all sorts of variable technicalities attached to it. Which, as you see a good example here, means that the cops can interpret it in all sorts of different ways. I would advise anyone in a state where it’s ‘decriminalized’ to never be walking/driving around in public with any amount of it on you.

    1. This is why I’ve never put any faith in decriminalization.

      Well, there’s actual decriminalization, where people are not hassled or bothered at all for doing some activity, and there’s what’s-called-decriminalization-these-days, where you’re still treated like you’ve committed a crime but the penalties are not as harsh. To me “legal” means that it’s regulated so that you can still be punished for not doing the activity the way they want or for doing the activity without permission and payment.

    2. Just increasing your chances of being shot for no reason if you do.

  7. “We on the civilian side of the government just tried to get the law right,” he said. “How it’s enforced is the purview of the Police Department.”

    Appointing the police commissioners is the job of the City Manager, with the approval of the mayor, though, right? Philadelphia_Police_Department #Ranks_within_the_department

    And the city council oversees the City Manager?

    If how it’s enforced is the purview of the Police Commissioners, why can’t the city council ask the City Manager and the commissioners to appear and explain why they’re ignoring the law?

    “All Philadelphia mayors have been since 1952, is a member of the Democratic Party, which tends to dominate local politics so thoroughly that the Democratic Mayoral primary is often more widely covered than the general election. The legislative branch, the Philadelphia City Council, consists of ten council members representing individual districts and seven members elected at large. Democrats currently hold 14 seats, with Republicans representing two allotted at-large seats for the minority party” Law_and_government

    That’s probably the problem right there.

    You get a party machine that thoroughly entrenched, and the police (and everything else) are being effectively run by the party leadership–who may not even be elected officials. Hell, the police union may be more powerful than the mayor.

  8. If the local media doesn’t even bother covering the Republicans–only the Democrat primary because it’s so obviously going to be a Democrat–then you better believe all the power brokers in the city are doing the same thing.

    Why would you bother hassling the commissioners when they–and you–are being nominated by the Democratic party apparatus anyway–and being nominated by the party is more or less then same thing as being elected?

    The biggest problem we have in this country is a problem no politician will ever talk about. The biggest problem we have in this country is the American people and the American voters. They elect assholes and then wonder why they always get shit on.

    Here’s a place where there may be hope for the Libertarian Party. I’m always the last guy to say that that politicians are the solution to our problems, but electing opposing politicians might actually make things better for the people of Philadelphia at the local level.

    Look at that quote! The Democratic machine actually reserved three seats for Republicans on the city council so Philadelphia wouldn’t look like a one party-state! The Republicans are so pathetic, apparently they couldn’t win a single city council seat on their own. Some libertarian should mount a legal challenge for none of those appointed seats are reserved for third party candidates.

    1. Lived in Philly for 5 years, and I promise you that such a challenge would be fruitless.

  9. “Hi. I’m a recovering crackhead, and this is my retarded sister I take care of. I’d like some welfare please.”

  10. Google pay 97$ per hour my last pay check was $8500 working 1o hours a week online. My younger brother friend has been averaging 12k for months now and he works about 22 hours a week. I cant believe how easy it was once I tried it out. This is wha? I do……

  11. I’ve made $64,000 so far this year working online and I’m a full time student. I’m using an online business opportunity I heard about and I’ve made such great money. It’s really user friendly and I’m just so happy that I found out about it. Heres what I’ve been doing,,,,,,,,,

  12. Did you expect something else from Philadelphia?

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.