By Mike Dunn
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — As Philadelphia City Council returns to work this week following its three-month summer recess, we’ll find out whether Mayor Michael Nutter will sign or veto a measure to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana — and whether Council would try to override a veto.
It was back in June that the pot decriminalization bill passed City Council in a straight party line vote, 13-3. Because Council then went into recess, Mayor Nutter has until Thursday to sign or veto it, or let it become law without his signature. The bill’s sponsor is a vocal critic of the mayor, Councilman Jim Kenney.
“There’s marijuana being used all over the place,” Kenney says. “I’m not suggesting that it’s the right thing to do. I’m suggesting that you shouldn’t be arrested for it, and you shouldn’t get an arrest record for it. They get handcuffed, fingerprinted, photographs taken, officers taken off the street to process them. This is a total waste of police time and they know it.”
Mayor Nutter says he shares with Kenney the goal of decriminalizing small amounts of pot, but the devil is in the details.
“We’re dealing with state laws and state statutes and court rules and regulations and a variety of things that are pretty complicated,” Nutter says. “We (Nutter and Kenney) have a similar mindset about that particular issue. The issue is how do we deal with it going forward, to have a consistent system, that the police officers can understand out on the street, that the courts will recognize, that the DA is in support of.”
Kenney believes state law is not an impediment.
“State law says you may arrest someone for possession of marijuana,” he says. “But you don’t have to do it — it’s not a ‘shall’ provision.”
And the Councilman believes that political ill will between the two has led to Administration foot-dragging on this issue.
“This is all gamesmanship, and people’s lives are in the balance with this gamesmanship,” Kenney says. “I know people who have basically lost their jobs because they were holding less than an ounce of marijuana, usually less than ten dollars worth.”
Nutter will not yet say how he will deal with the measure, but he hints at some sort of formal announcement of policy changes.
“When its all in a complete package — a holistic response that is consistent in nature — I’d like to lay all of those elements at one time,” says the mayor. “That’s what I’ve been working on. And when I’m ready, I’ll certainly make an announcement.”
The bill makes possession of about an ounce of pot punishable only by a $25 fine, with the matter never entering the court system. Kenney estimates that the new pot policy could save the police department and the courts $4 million a year. Should the mayor veto the bill, Kenney believes he has enough votes to override. 12 votes are needed, and 13 lawmakers voted in support back in June.
“I don’t see anyone changing their vote,” said Kenney.
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