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If we’re to believe sources—and who doesn’t?—then Mayor Michael Nutter should be signing the city’s historic marijuana decriminalization bill into law later on today [Update: Confirmed since this blog went live; it's happening at 1:30pm in the Mayor's Reception Room in City Hall]. That’s good news for young, casual marijuana smokers who foresee themselves, you know, having a future with a job and what not. But it’s potential bad news for those who don’t understand the law. So, before you go taking gravity bong hits in the Logan Square Fountain, check out this handy explainer.

Does this mean I can take gravity bong hits in the Logan Square Fountain?

No! It’s still illegal to smoke in public, but those caught smoking marijuana will no longer be subject to arrest for smoking marijuana.

Is that different from what’s going on in Colorado?

Much different. In Colorado, marijuana is legal and sold through government-condoned businesses, like beer. In Philadelphia, after Mayor Nutter signs the bill, marijuana will still be illegal, it’ll just be decriminalized. So, you’re still getting pot illegally from a drug dealer, and you’re still breaking the law by possessing it and smoking it. The law just won’t care as much as it used to.

I don’t get it.

It’s like the difference between a parking ticket and hitting a guy in the face with a hammer. Parking offenses are not criminal. Assault is.

OK, so let’s say I do decide to light up in Logan Square…

That’ll be a $100 fine, which can be waived with community service.

Is it always $100?

No, that’s just for actually smoking the stuff in public. Possessing weed is a $25 fine under the bill.

What’s the difference between that and what the law says now?

Right now, when you get caught with pot in Philly, you get arrested, you pay a fine and you have to go through the city’s Small Amounts of Marijuana (SAM) program if you want your record expunged. Not the harshest sentence in the world, but you still get booked.

OK, but are a lot of people even being arrested right now for marijuana? I mean, it’s just weed.

Don’t I know it. Actually, about 4,000 per year get arrested for minor pot possession in Philadelphia, costing the police department about $4 million. As Councilman Jim Kenney, who wrote the bill, said in September of his legislation: “There’s no more handcuffs, no more bookings, no more criminal record … We have so many people that we are putting in the prison pipeline, and the poverty pipeline, because a criminal record is a debilitating thing.”

I can have as much pot on my person as I want, and I’ll only ever pay a fine?

Hold on, buddy. Not quite. A small amount of marijuana in Philly is considered thirty grams or less.

Thirty? That’s still a lot.

Yeah. So, just have less than thirty. You’ll be good.

Assuming the bill’s signed today, when will it go into affect?

Likely later this month.

This all seems a little too good to be true, to be honest. I thought Mayor Nutter was super against this.

He was, but came to an agreement with Councilman Kenney.

But didn’t the mayor lash out at City Council in the summer just for passing the bill?

Sort of. He said some of the rationale behind the bill—that marijuana-related arrests disproportionately affect the black community, specifically black males—was bullshit, in so many words:

“It is an insult to the African-American community that all of this discussion and debate is revolving around whether or not black guys can smoke as much joint or weed as white guys,” he said. “That is a bogus issue.  It is an insult to the community. Black people are fighting for the same things that white folks want. They want safe neighborhoods, they want a job, they want their kids to get a great education. They want to be able to buy a house and have a quality of life and not have six knuckleheads outside their house smoking, having a good time, and destroying the quality of life in those neighborhoods.  Black people want that. White people want that. Purple people want that, too.”

Does the Purple community really want that?

You’re going to have to ask them.

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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