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.]
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.
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.
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.
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.
The enactment of state laws legalizing the physician-recommended use of cannabis therapy is not associated with increased levels of marijuana use by young people, according to data published online in the Journal of Adolescent Health.
Researchers at Rhode Island Hospital and Brown University assessed the impact of medical cannabis laws by examining trends in reported drug use by high-schoolers in a cohort of states before and after legalization. Researchers compared these trends to geographically matched states that had not adopted medical marijuana laws.
Authors reported overall “no statistically significant differences in marijuana use before and after policy change for any state pairing,” and acknowledged that some states that had adopted medical cannabis laws experienced a decrease in adolescent’s self-reported use of the plant. “In the regression analysis, we did not find an overall increased probability of marijuana use related to the policy change,” they stated.
Investigators concluded, “This study did not find increases in adolescent marijuana use related to legalization of medical marijuana. … This suggests that concerns about ‘sending the wrong message’ may have been overblown. … Our study … may provide some reassurance to policy makers who wish to balance compassion for individuals who have been unable to find relief from conventional medical therapies with the safety and well-being of youth.”
A 2013 study published in the American Journal of Public Health similarly concluded that the passage of medical marijuana laws in various states has had no “statistically significant … effect on the prevalence of either lifetime or 30-day marijuana use” by adolescents residing in those states.
A 2012 study by researchers at McGill University in Montreal reported: “[P]assing MMLs (medical marijuana laws) decreased past-month use among adolescents … and had no discernible effect on the perceived riskiness of monthly use. … [These] estimates suggest that reported adolescent marijuana use may actually decrease following the passing of medical marijuana laws.”
Read the abstract of this latest study, “The Impact of State Medical Marijuana Legislation on Adolescent Marijuana Use,” online here.