by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director
As anticipated, Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter signed municipal legislation this week removing criminal penalties for the possession of minor quantities of cannabis by adults. (Watch a video of the Mayor's ordinance signing and accompanying press conference here.)
The new measure amends citywide penalties pertaining to the possession of up to approximately one ounce of cannabis (30 grams) from a criminal misdemeanor to a non-summary civil offense, punishable by a $25 fine - no arrest and no criminal record. Public use of cannabis will be punishable by up to a $100 fine and/or the completion of community service.
Philadelphia NORML had long lobbied in support of a change in the city's criminal classification of marijuana possession offenses. A 2013 review of marijuana arrest data by the organization reported that African Americans are arrested in Philadelphia for minor marijuana violations at five times the rate of whites despite both races consuming the substance at nearly equal rates.
Council member James Kenney, who sponsored the decriminalization ordinance, acknowledged that it was Philadelphia NORML's outreach on this issue that ultimately persuaded him to push for the change in law.
The reduced penalties go into effect on October 20, 2014.