By Mike Dunn
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Over the objections of the mayor, a Philadelphia City Council committee today approved a bill that completely decriminalizes the possession of small amounts of marijuana.
The bill, authored by Councilman Jim Kenney, would make possession of less than 30 grams of marijuana — about an ounce — a simple “code violation,” punishable only by a $25 fine.
While a police officer would issue the violation notice, the courts would no longer be involved, and the fine would be paid to the city in the same manner as a speeding ticket. Officers would still have the discretion to arrest.
Kenney said this would save police and the courts millions of dollars each year, and would spare teens from having life-altering arrest records.
“I think the problem is carrying an arrest record around for probably most of your life when you make a mistake as a 25-year-old,” Kenney said. “That is more obnoxious than anything else we’re concerned about here.”
Bishop Darrell Robinson, of the Yesha Ministries, supports the bill. He said the current criminality of pot mainly affects young black men, while ignoring local college students.
“I can go to any of the universities and take them (police) to some of the frat parties and houses, and guess what? Plenty of marijuana! They’re not being arrested, though. The only people who are really being arrested are these black youth,” Robinson said.
But the Nutter administration opposes Kenney’s bill. Public safety director Mike Resnick told committee members that because officers would still have the discretion to charge, it creates an unfair situation.
“The consequences could be significant as equally reasonable and well-trained law enforcement professionals make decisions in widely varying circumstances,” Resnick said. “Consistentcy and fairness are the hallmarks of procedural justice, and allowing or creating such a dichotomy of possible outcomes for the same violation is simply unfair.”
Resnick said it would also be difficult for an officer to determine on the spot if the amount of marijuana seized was more than 30 grams.
Despite those concerns, the committee approved Kenney’s bill and sent it to the full Council for a vote. That will likely come on June 19th, the final full Council meeting before the lawmakers adjourn for the summer.
This is actually Councilman Kenney’s second attempt this year at decriminalizing marijuana. An earlier measure allowed police to issue a citation at the scene, so the suspect would not have to go to the police station for booking, but it kept the matter within the court system (see related story).
That measure was approved in committee (another related story) but Kenney never called it up for a final vote, because of objections from court officials and the mayor.
Kenney then devised this proposal to take pot possession out of the courts entirely.