By Steve Tawa

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — A Philadelphia City Council committee today heard testimony about a proposed ordinance to end mandatory arrests for small amounts of marijuana.

Councilman James Kenney notes that there were 4,200 arrests last year in Philadelphia involving people with small amounts of pot.

“Seventeen thousand police hours were spent off the street, processing people with small amounts of marijuana,” he said today, noting that the demographics are shocking:

“Eighty-nine percent of all people in Philadelphia arrested for small amounts of marijuana are African-Americans.  You can’t tell me that Latinos and white kids aren’t smoking reefer, too — they’re just not getting stopped and getting arrested.”

Paul Messing of the ACLU noted that several localities and states are moving toward decriminalization policies, including Washington, DC, where a bill awaits that mayor’s signature.

“Possession of small amounts of marijuana is a civil code violation that carries a $25 fine,” Messing noted of the new DC ordinance.

Also at today’s hearing, two young men who were arrested for having a few joints on them talked about their ordeals of being handcuffed, arrested, fingerprinted, and locked up.  In addition, local and national leaders of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (“NORML”) spoke in favor of the proposed law.

Supporters say there’s no point in the mandatory custodial arrests of people holding 30 grams of pot or less if the district attorney’s “SAM” program (Small Amounts of Marijuana) does not result in prosecutions.  The SAM program is designed to issue a fine and expunge the arrest record of anyone who attends an educational course.

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