Nutter Agrees To Sign Bill Softening Marijuana Laws in Philadelphia

By Mike Dunn

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Mayor Nutter today agreed to sign into law a bill that essentially decriminalizes possession of small amounts of marijuana.   But he says he’ll sign it only after City Council tweaks certain details of the measure.

The original bill, authored by councilman Jim Kenney, would have police issuing citations akin to a parking ticket for possession of one ounce of pot or less.

The Nutter administration and police officials had reservations about that approach.   Now, Kenney and the mayor have reached agreement on a compromise: the infraction would result in what’s called a “non-summary civil offense.”

“We’ve gotten to a place where it is out of the criminal realm,” Kenney said today.  “There’s no more handcuffs, no more bookings, no more criminal record.  Police will not have to leave their posts and go to the station house to deal with this.  People will pay a fine based on the offense: $25 for the possession of anything under an ounce.”

Anyone cited would be required to make an appearance before a Municipal Court judge, but there would be no criminal record.  Those caught smoking marijuana in public would face a $100 fine, which could be waived if they agree to several hours of public service.

Kenney says this approach will spare more than 4,000 people from being arrested each year, and will save the Philadelphia Police Department about $4 million a year.

“There will be no criminal record for an individual. And that’s a major step,” Kenney notes. “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.”

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(Mayor Nutter speaks with reporters outside his City Hall office.  Photo by Mike Dunn)

(Mayor Nutter speaks with reporters outside his City Hall office. Photo by Mike Dunn)

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Mayor Nutter praised Kenney’s efforts and says the councilman’s original opened his eyes about the issue and prompted the administration to study how other cities were handling possession of small amounts of pot.

“So I think the agreement ends up putting the city and our citizens in a much better place,” Nutter said, adding that decriminalizing pot possession is not the same as condoning marijuana use.

“It’s not.  This is about how we deal with penalties in that regard.  And there will be penalties.  There’s a consequence to people violating the law,” Nutter said.

The Kenney bill will be amended this coming Thursday, when City Council returns from its summer recess. It would then undergo another final vote one week later, then sent to the mayor for his signature.

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