Kenney's new bill would make small amounts of pot possession a civil offense

Posted: May 02, 2014

TAKING HIS WEED wishes a step further, Councilman Jim Kenney is introducing a bill today that would make possession of small amounts of marijuana a simple civil infraction - not a criminal one.

Kenney already wants to end mandatory custodial arrests for small amounts of marijuana, or "SAM," but this new bill would give police the discretion to arrest "bad actors" or simply issue a ticket carrying a $25 fine.

"Philadelphia is in the dark ages when it comes to marijuana laws and enforcement," he said.

"With the passage of this legislation, Philadelphia will do its part to end the failed war on drugs by treating nonviolent, minor drug use as a public-health issue, not a criminal one."

The measure, Kenney said, does not contradict state law because there is nothing in the Pennsylvania Code's controlled-substance act that pre-empts or prohibits a local ordinance from dealing with the same issue. His bill would run concurrent to state law, only giving police the discretion to arrest if necessary or issue a citation.

In major metropolitan areas like Chicago and Washington, D.C., such provisions already exist, where police issue a civil-violation ticket for puny pot possessors, either on the spot or through the mail. Kenney said cops do have the option to arrest badly behaving lawbreakers when the circumstances warrant it. Kenney said the goal of his legislation is to keep jail cells empty of small-time crooks and keep police on the street, where he says they are most needed.

"With over 4,200 [marijuana] arrests in 2012, and an average of two to three police hours per arrest, this measure will save an estimated 17,000 police hours on an annual basis," he said.

Fine proceeds, according to Kenney's office, would go to youth drug-prevention programs run by the Health Department.


On Twitter: @RuffTuffDH

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