Northwest Philly councilmembers weigh in on pending marijuana-bust ordinance

 Councilman Kenney's bill addresses possession of less than an ounce of marijuana. Twenty pounds, like with this bust at Franklin Mills Mall in 2013, would result in handcuffs. (Photo from NBC10)

Councilman Kenney's bill addresses possession of less than an ounce of marijuana. Twenty pounds, like with this bust at Franklin Mills Mall in 2013, would result in handcuffs. (Photo from NBC10)

City Councilman at-large James Kenney’s bill (PDF) seeking to end mandatory arrests for possessing small amounts of marijuana passed a council committee on Monday.

Getting arrested would not be automatic for those caught with less than an ounce of marijuana under a bill that would save $4 million a year if police ticketed people rather than go through a time-consuming arrest process, said Kenney.

As it comes up for first reading at Thursday’s full meeting, NewsWorks asked Northwest Philadelphia’s city councilmembers for their thoughts on its merits. Here’s what they had to say:

Fourth District Councilman Curtis Jones Jr.

“This is an issue that many municipalities, and all levels of government, are dealing with. It’s good that we’re having this discussion.

“We have to proceed with caution because there could be some unintended consequences. Does this now mean that police officers will proceed as if [small amount of marijuana possession] is an open container, which is no where near as severe and long lasting?

“At what level do you start to deal with people as repeat offenders? Is it a do-over the first time? The third time you take it more seriously?

“I’ve gotten some of my questions answered. If it’s during a commission of crime, [the possession charge] would go into a bag with all the offenses. If you have a record, and it violated a condition of your probation, I like the fact that you don’t get a pass.

“There are two spectrums going on here. The kid who came home from Penn State or Cheney University and got caught up, I don’t want their lives to spin out of control for a one-time offense. I don’t want this to be a gateway to a lifetime of dealing with the question ‘Did you inhale?’ We had a president, Bill Clinton, who faced that question. What would have happened if Clinton got caught?

“I applaud Kenney for taking on this semi-controversial issue. Better him than me!”

Ninth District City Councilwoman Marian Tasco

“I wasn’t here for the hearing, but I got the gist of the testimony. I agree with Councilman Kenney that we waste a lot of time [with arrests and in court] for possession of small amounts of marijuana.

“In 10 years, the whole issue is going to be moot. It’s going to be legal. This will be just like Prohibition.

“If someone is getting arrested continually, we’ll have to take a look at it, but for first-time offenders, it should be like in Montgomery County: A summons and a fine.”

Eighth District City Councilwoman Cindy Bass

Several attempts to reach Bass’ office for comment were unsuccessful this week.

If NewsWorks gets comment prior to Thursday’s council meeting, this story will be updated.

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