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.