By Mike Dunn

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Philadelphia mayor Michael Nutter today signed into law the measure that decriminalizes possession of small amounts of marijuana.

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At the same time, he announced a public awareness campaign to stress that pot remains illegal.

Nutter signed the pot decriminalization bill flanked by the legislation’s author, Councilman Jim Kenney.

Nutter and Kenney last month struck a compromise that makes possession of one ounce or less of pot punishable by a $25 fine, with a civil citation and no criminal record.

At the bill-signing today, Nutter repeatedly stressed that the change does not make marijuana legal:

“Decriminalizing means you will not be treated as a criminal for possessing small amounts of marijuana.  You will not be arrested and put it jail.  But as I’ve said, marijuana is still illegal.”

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Kenney said the larger intent is to keep small mistakes from derailing people’s lives.

“This type of action will keep kids out of the criminal justice system,” Kenney (standing at far right in photo) said.  “It will keep people’s records clean so that they can get a job.  All of us make mistakes in our lives.  And we just don’t want their mistakes to ruin the rest of their lives.”

Nutter also announced some related moves:

  • he launched a campaign — with palm-sized cards and public service announcements — to publicize the new law and to stress that possession is still illegal;
  • he urged city middle schools to take part in a program focused on skills needed to resist drug use;
  • and he said that Community Legal Services, which provides representation for lower-income residents, will get an extra $100,000 in city money to help residents who are eligible have their criminal records expunged.

Even though the pot decriminalization bill is now the law, Nutter said the police department will not begin formal enforcement until October 20th.

The $25 fine applies only those caught holding an ounce or less.  Anyone spotted by police smoking in public will face a $100 fine, which can be waived with six hours of community service.


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