Decriminalizing pot possession advances in Philly, but conflicts could stymie city law

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A bill gaining traction in Philadelphia City Council would make possessing small quantities of marijuana only a civil violation, with a $25 fine. 

Councilman Jim Kenney says it takes about 17,000 hours of police work annually in Philadelphia to process those arrested with less than an ounce of marijuana.

In some cases, people spend a weekend in jail for being caught with “just a few joints,” he said. And, he said, the current law disproportionately affects minorities.

“It reduces the cooperation between the community and police when the only people getting locked up are young black men because they are being stopped and frisked for something that non African-Americans would not get locked up for,” Kenney said Monday.

But if Philly police follow the new regulation, other forces could still arrest and charge people under state law, said Michael Resnick, the city’s director of public safety.

“There is no guarantee that other law enforcement organizations in the city — including transit police, the university police departments, Pennsylvania State police, housing police and Amtrak police and others —  would follow suit,” Resnick said.

Philadelphia’s district attorney’s office does not prosecute those caught with small amounts of marijuana. Councilman Dennis O’Brien urged colleagues to push for a change in state law instead of attempting to circumvent it in Philadelphia.

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