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Philadelphia: City Saves Millions By Ceasing Criminal Marijuana Prosecutions

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director July 12, 2011

    The city of Philadelphia saved an estimated $2 million last year by ceasing criminal prosecutions for minor marijuana offenses, according to comments made last week by District Attorney Seth Williams to the Philadelphia Daily News.

    In April 2010, Williams publicly announced a citywide policy change whereby law enforcement officials would issue a summons rather than arrest and criminally prosecute minor marijuana offenders. Philadelphia NORML had actively lobbied for the policy change after finding that the city punished minor marijuana violations more severely than many neighboring counties. A February 2010 Philly NORML report also found significant racial disparities in the city’s marijuana prosecutions – noting that African American males comprised an estimated 83 percent of all persons in Philadelphia arrested for minor marijuana possession offenses.

    The new enforcement policy took effect in June 2010.

    Approximately 4,160 defendants were diverted under the program, called the Small Amount of Marijuana (SAM), during its first year, the Philadelphia Daily News reported. Defendants in the program pay a $200 fine to attend a three-hour drug awareness class. Those who complete the class and pay the fine do not have to appear in criminal court and will not have a criminal record.

    Previously, minor (under 30 grams) marijuana possession offenders in Philadelphia were criminally prosecuted with a misdemeanor offense punishable by up to 30 days probation or jail time, a $500 fine, and a criminal record.

    “There’s no reason to waste tax dollars on harsh prohibition enforcement,” said Chris Goldstein, media coordinator for Philly NORML and publisher of FreedomIsGreen.com. “Removing the criminal penalties for marijuana possession helps to pay for firefighters, ambulances, and other necessary services. It’s that simple.”

    Additional information on this story will appear in this week’s NORML media advisory. Sign up to receive NORML’s news advisories free online here.

    26 Responses to “Philadelphia: City Saves Millions By Ceasing Criminal Marijuana Prosecutions”

    1. Joshua Brewster says:

      I was charged with a minor possession in Noblesville, Indiana and sentenced to 1 year of probation, 20 hours community service and an 8 week drug class. I had in my possession at the time a gram and a half (if that). The system is corrupt!!

    2. CraigH says:

      Common sense law enforcement. Amazing. Now the next step step is making pot legal over the age of 21 except when driving and taxed. Small steps I suppose.

    3. AL says:

      While it’s at least some progress….this is still ridiculous . Does anyone pay a $200 fine & attend a drug awareness program for Alcohol or pharma. drugs ?
      All i can say is I’m glad i live in Cali. I’ve Been caught 4 or 5 times with marijuana & i haven’t paid a penny for possession or even spent one minute in a drug awareness program .I can’t believe the ignorance of law makers back est .

    4. AL says:

      Opps……..that’s EAST .

    5. nathan says:

      I wish cincinnati would get on this. i was just searched last week, caught with paraphernalia, no pot and am awaiting trial. the minimum im looking at is community service. Middle of the road is community service drug awareness classes, 6 months to 3 years license suspension court costs and $150 fine. Maximum is 30 days in jail, 3 years license suspension, 1-5 years probation, $500 fine, court costs and drug classes.

      the worst part about it was that the whole time they were searching my car, the cop was saying that they dont really care about marijuana at all and they’re just out looking for harder drugs. well if thats the case, then why am I a criminal now?

    6. Owen says:

      I live outside of Philly. Should I move there just for the fine?

    7. Sean Haddad says:

      SWITCH THE FIRST TWO LETTERS OF OPTIMISM AND YOU GET POTIMISM!
      Potimism-[pot-uh-miz-uhm]- noun
      . The belief that marijuana will become legal no matter how unlikely it seems and there are positive ways around the excuses people give saying it can’t be legal.
      Tell your friends! Let’s make this viral!
      TEN REASONS WHY I HAVE POTIMISM
      1. A disposition to look at the medical/financial benefits of marijuana and the good it will bring by making it legal.
      2. The belief it can be used responsibly like alcohol, except it’s much safer.
      3. Marijuana prohibition has overall failed and there are reasons it needs to be legal. Having more people vote yes on propositions that would make marijuana more available would help.
      4. To know that if it was sold in stores, weed would not be considered a” gateway drug” due to the fact that some dealers who sell marijuana also sell hard drugs like cocaine and heroin, making it an easy access to its use. This would also make it harder for minors to get it since there would be an age limit.
      5. To know the Reefer Madness generation was a time when people were brainwashed by the government to believe that marijuana has more negative side effects than it really does and that it leads to making bad decisions like murder, which is not true. The movie Reefer Madness, which exploits these untrue lies and was made for the purpose of having people oppose weed, has “Tell your children” in text at the end which sadly to say many have, leading to a chain of generations to believing it is worse than it really is. Thankfully this chain is weakening and more people are starting to realize the truth about weed.
      6. To know that alcohol is the driving force in a number of public and domestic disputes which can lower if more people smoked marijuana instead of drinking alcohol.
      7. That drug lords who operate marijuana rings can start their own legal business if marijuana became legal. (why not?)
      8. Knowing that it being illegal is causing violence to go up due to drug wars. This would go down significantly if the plant was legal.
      9. It had other uses such as oil and clothing.
      10. Our fore fathers, like George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, grew marijuana and our last three presidents have smoked weed.
      LET’S KILL THE TABOO AND HAVE OPPOSERS START HAVING A NEW MINDSET ON MARIJUANA!

    8. Little Gypsy says:

      “There’s no reason to waste tax dollars on harsh prohibition enforcement.” Now if we could get 300 million Americans to repeat that ten times each in a row ….perhaps the bullshit would stop. There is no need …there is no reason… we should not prohibit ….let’s quit wasting precious tax money …..marijuana is not really criminal… Don’t smoke and drive…Don’t lock up people for victimless crimes…marijuana is not as bad as real drugs….you fill in the blank.

    9. Douglas says:

      song like a winner to me

    10. Missie says:

      That’s smart! A lot smarter than throwing them in jail or making a spectacle out of them where, if they have a job, likely lost it and could no longer pay taxes.

      I imagine most if not all of those who were criminally prosecuted for cannabis were functioning quite normally in society up until they got busted — assuming it was only cannabis they were using and nothing else, like, for instance, prescription psych meds, alcohol, etc. I used to believe that cannabis use alone made people stupid, lazy, bad, you name it. But I was badly mistaken, mislead, just plain wrong.

    11. [...] those caught with under 30 grams of marijuana instead of arresting and criminally prosecuting them. According to City District Attorney Seth Williams, Philadelphia has seen a savings of roughly $2 million since the program took effect. Approximately [...]

    12. Bobby D.Denning says:

      2 million , that’s a lot of better off spent frogskins. Now imagine how much money we could make! we grew for rope in WWII , why not to save the USA economy?

    13. C Lloyd says:

      One city in one state $2,000,000 in savings. Just think what could be saved nation wide with legalization? Not only money saved in court prosecutions but money earned in taxes and home cultivation permits, corporate licenses and inspections and sales taxes. Treated the same as alcohol. We can all legally make booze at home. But we go to the store and buy it. It will be the same with Cannabis. Once a sufficient product is offered in store home cultivation will decrease significantly. Adding to state and federal coffers in the form of jobs, fees and taxes.

    14. Bobby D.Denning says:

      Rhetoric my goats ass,more like a racket. Is it time to take the gloves off yet? The only way we are going to cut,cap and balance is to ( cut the crap and balance.) Market cannibis already, it’s worked for us before. We have hungry kids during summer that only eat when school lunches are served. What did your family have for lunch? We actually have too many reasons to fully leagalize it,period.. Fact is marijuana sells and is completely safe,so use it. (USE RESPONSIBILY) !!!!!!!!!!!!!

    15. Otis Driftwood says:

      Nice article….thinking of a johnny appleseed approach to overgrow the city next year. Nutter always looks constipated.

    16. JennB says:

      This is great! The fact that they saved two million in such a short time should really make people pay attention to what can be gained by legalizing weed nation wide.

    17. Hassan hankins says:

      I was arrested for a blunt and was,offered 6 mo probation and 1000$fine in phila. The sam program is a statue in phila why dont it apply to me

    18. dick nutter says:

      back in the day like the 75to 90tys they would pore your weed on the ground,and yell, im given you a break,get the fuck out of here. and you lissen,now kids are stupid,smoke blunts in public,go back 2 the old days, put if in your panse ,or bra,go home and smoke, or better yet quit,a waste of $,

    19. dick nutter says:

      arresting a person 4 a nic, or blunt, makes the arresting officer, look despret, and the whole district,untrust worthy,all the drugs in phila.come from north phila,why go 2 the small, 1 joint person, they all should go back 2 comunitation class, to instell confidence in the people,we need them, they need us.

    20. […] 2010, some minor marijuana offenders have been eligible to receive a summons to participate in a diversion program in lieu of facing criminal […]

    21. […] offenders, moving to summonses instead. By 2011 the policy had saved Philadelphia taxpayers about 2 million dollars. Nevertheless marijuana remained criminalized and police continued to target suspected marijuana […]

    22. […] offenders, moving to summonses instead. By 2011 the policy had saved Philadelphia taxpayers about 2 million dollars. Nevertheless marijuana remained criminalized and police continued to target suspected marijuana […]

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