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decriminalization

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director October 3, 2014

    Philadelphia mayor signs depenalization legislation into lawAs 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.

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director September 8, 2014

    City mayor Michael Nutter announced today that he will sign municipal legislation into law decriminalizing marijuana possession penalties.

    Under the measure, penalties pertaining to the possession of up to one ounce of cannabis would be reduced from a criminal misdemeanor to a non-summary civil offense, punishable by a $25 fine – no arrest and no criminal record.

    Members of the City Council in June voted 13 to 3 to reduce municipal marijuana penalties. A slightly amended version of this proposal is anticipated to be before the mayor by the end of this month. The revised language is expected to take effect on October 20.

    Anyone cited under the pending ordinance would be required to make an appearance before a Municipal Court judge, but would not face criminal charges or a criminal record. Those caught smoking marijuana in public would face a $100 fine, which could be waived if the defendant agreed to perform several hours of public 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.

    “This will go a long way toward a much more saner and a much better policy for people in Philadelphia,” said Chris Goldstein, PhillyNORML co-chair. “This is something that should have happened earlier in the summer. It would have alleviated almost 1,000 people getting arrested.”

    It remains to be seen to what extent local police will enforce the new ordinance, once enacted. In past statements, Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey had publicly pledged to ignore the ordinance, stating, “State law trumps city ordinances.”

    [UPDATE! It is now being reported that Chief Ramsey is on board with the amended ordinance.]

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director July 16, 2014

    A new District ordinance reducing marijuana possession penalties to a $25.00 fine-only violation goes into effect at midnight tonight.

    Washington, DC City Council members overwhelmingly approved the legislation, entitled “The Simple Possession of Small Quantities of Marijuana Decriminalization Amendment Act,” this past spring. The measure amends District law involving the possession or transfer of up to one ounce of marijuana from a criminal misdemeanor (formerly punishable by up to 6 months incarceration and a maximum fine of $1,000) to a civil violation (punishable by a $25.00 fine, no arrest, no jail time, and no criminal record).

    Offenses involving the public consumption of cannabis remain classified as a criminal misdemeanor under DC law, punishable by up to six-months in jail and a $500 fine. The possession of cannabis-related paraphernalia will be re-classified as a violation, not a criminal offense.

    An analysis published by the American Civil Liberties Union reported that the District possesses the highest percentage of marijuana possession arrests per capita in the nation.

    Weeks ago, Congressman Andrew Harris (R-MD) introduced a language to undermine the implementation of this act. However, that provision remains pending and is strongly opposed by the White House.

    The District’s $25.00 fine-only measure is similar to existing ‘decriminalization’ laws in California, Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, Nebraska, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Vermont where private, non-medical possession of marijuana is treated as a civil, non-criminal offense.

    Five additional states — Minnesota, Mississippi, Nevada, North Carolina, and Ohio — treat marijuana possession offenses as a fine-only misdemeanor offense.

    Three states — Alaska, Colorado, and Washington — impose no criminal or civil penalty for the private possession of small amounts of marijuana.

  • by Erik Altieri, NORML Communications Director June 19, 2014

    Today, the full Philadelphia City Council voted 13 to 3 in support of a measure that would lower the penalty for possession of up to one ounce of marijuana to a civil infraction, punishable by a $25 fine.

    All 13 of the Democratic members of the City Council voted for it and all three Republicans voted against. The measure now goes to Philadelphia Mayor Nutter’s desk for signature. NORML’s local chapter, Philly NORML, has been working hard on advancing these reforms for many years and those efforts seem to be finally paying off.

    Councilman Bill Greenlee, who voted in support of decriminalization, stated, “It does not seem fair for what most people consider a minor incident to potentially risk people’s future.”

    Councilwoman Cindy Bass, who also voted “Yes” on the bill, said, “To spend the time and the amount of money that is really required to prosecute someone with small amounts of marijuana, while we have so many other bigger issues in the city, does seem a little bit not where we need to be headed.”

    Bill sponsor Councilman Jim Kenney estimates that the new pot policy could save the police department and the courts about $4 million a year.

    NORML will keep you updated if and when the mayor signs this measure.

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director June 13, 2014

    The Jamaica government is poised to relax marijuana possession penalties.

    Justice Minister Mark Golding said yesterday in a statement that a majority of lawmakers are ready to endorse a proposal decriminalizing the possession of the plant.

    “[T]he criminalization of possession of a small quantity of ganja and of smoking ganja has caused significant hardships in Jamaica, particularly among young men,” he said. “A conviction for possession or use of ganja results in a criminal record, which often precludes the offender from engaging certain employment, impacts his ability to get visas to travel overseas, and generally limits his life prospects. This is a serious human rights issue, supporting the cry for reform to our laws in this area.”

    The proposed change in law amends Jamaica’s Dangerous Drugs Act by eliminating criminal penalties pertaining to the private possession of two ounces of cannabis by adults. Rather, such behavior will be reclassified under the law as a “non-arrestable, ticketable infraction … which does not give rise to a criminal record.”

    The proposed changes intend to provid broader protections for those using cannabis for religious or medicinal purposes. “[R]eligious use of ganja ought not to be criminalized, given Jamaica’s history and prevailing socio-cultural and economic environment,” the Justice Minister said. He added, “It is not only wrong but also foolhardy to continue with a law that makes it illegal to possess ganja and its derivatives for medicinal purposes.”

    The Justice Minister said that a majority of Parliament are also backing separate legislation that seeks to expunge the criminal records of those with minor marijuana convictions. Additional legislative efforts are also “underway to develop a legal framework which will allow the emergence of medical ganja and industrial hemp industries in Jamaica,” Golding said.

    Various Jamaican national commissions have previously called on Parliament to enact similar reforms, but lawmakers in the past have largely ignored their recommendations.

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