After months of anticipation, Mayor Michael Nutter has agreed to sign legislation which would decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana.

It was reported Nutter agreed to sign the bill, sponsored by Councilman Jim Kenney, pending small changes, including changing the possession of marijuana to an infraction called a “non-summary civil offense.” According to CBS Philly:

“We’ve gotten to a place where it is out of the criminal realm,” Kenney said today.  “There’s no more handcuffs, no more bookings, no more criminal record.  Police will not have to leave their posts and go to the station house to deal with this.  People will pay a fine based on the offense: $25 for the possession of anything under an ounce.”

Anyone cited would be required to make an appearance before a Municipal Court judge, but there would be no criminal record.  Those caught smoking marijuana in public would face a $100 fine, which could be waived if they agree to several hours of public service.

Kenney’s bill will be amended when Council comes back from vacation later this week, and will likely be sent to the mayor by the end of the month. Police could begin enforcing it come October.

Today’s news is big for advocates like PhillyNORML, who have worked with legislators in Philadelphia and around the state to bring more attention to marijuana possession laws, which disproportionately affect African-Americans. In 2013, for instance, there were 583 whites and 3,165 blacks arrested for marijuana possession in Philadelphia, even though studies show races smoke at basically equal rates.

“This will go a long way toward a much more saner and a much better policy for people in Philadelphia,” says 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.”

That said, notes Goldstein, thousands of arrests in Philadelphia will begin turning into citations later this fall — people will no longer have an arrest record.

In previous statements, Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey has said the department would continue arresting people for possession, whether a new law was passed or not. According to the Marijuana Policy Project, that take on the issue is the norm for police departments all over the country.

In this case, however, the tweaks in the law appear to be enough for police to get on board.

“What’s most important is that the mayor and the police department are on board with this, because they were both previously not on board,” continues Goldstein. “I think it’s important not only that the mayor’s going to sign it, but the police are going to follow through with the procedure.”

About The Author

Staff writer

Randy LoBasso is the winner of the Pennsylvania Newsmedia Association's 2014 Distinguished Writing Award for his news and politics coverage at Philadelphia Weekly. He has also contributed to Alt Ledes, Salon, The Guardian and PennLive.

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