Committee OKs Kenney's pot bill

Posted: March 12, 2014

IT'S LOOKING less and less like a bill regulating small amounts of marijuana will be going up in smoke.

City Council's Committee on Law and Government passed a bill yesterday that could end mandatory custodial arrests for possession of a small amount of pot.

The subject has garnered interest from people who say Philadelphia wastes countless hours arresting and processing small-time offenders when the city's law enforcers have bigger fish to fry.

Aaron Fleming, a Temple University student, testified before the committee that he was held for more than 14 hours for a first-time offense of marijuana possession after being stopped on campus by police.

Fleming said his arresting officer had to call for four additional officers for backup. But when the backup arrived, they debated among one another for more than an hour as to what to do with Fleming - arrest him or tell him to dump the weed and go home.

"What benefit did society gain for punishing someone without any prior history of violence or criminal activity over this?" he asked.

Under the district attorney's current Small Amounts of Marijuana program, individuals can be arrested for possessing 30 grams or less, although the charge is a summary offense.

By contrast, in Montgomery County, violators are issued summonses and fined, whereas Philadelphia law requires a mandatory arrest in every case.

Sponsored by Councilman Jim Kenney, the bill now goes before the full Council on Thursday for consideration.

"We all agree that the number of hours police are taking over this could be better spent fighting crime," Kenney said.

Representatives from both the Police Department and the Nutter administration expressed support for Kenney's bill, although some ambiguity came from the District Attorney's Office. Asked yesterday if he favored the legislation, District Attorney Seth Williams issued a statement saying:

"I appreciate Councilman Kenney's efforts to change the process by which cases against those possessing small amounts of marijuana are initiated. I look forward to working with Councilman Kenney to ensure his proposal can be implemented in a manner that conforms with existing state law."

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