As an African-American Millennial who grew up during the “Just Say No” era, I am always surprised by pro-marijuana stances from public figures. When I learned about the bill proposed by Councilman Jim Kenney, my first thought was “that’s interesting.” My second thought was “It’s about time.”
I agree that Philadelphia would benefit from marijuana reform. A recent poll showed 69 percent of Pennsylvania voters support the legalization of marijuana in some form. While Councilman Kenney’s bill would only decriminalize (small amounts) of marijuana and affect only Philadelphians, that’s progress.
It hurts when I see hardworking people unable to find jobs because they have a marijuana arrest on their record. Study after study shows that the people most likely to be arrested for marijuana possession are people of color and those who live in low-income communities, even though both groups do not make-up the majority of marijuana consumers. Those who say “Well, just don’t smoke” are missing the point. Marijuana is easy to grow and, for some, provides relief for medical ailments. For better or worse, people are going to smoke it.
That premise raises the question: Are you going to continue using limited resources to prevent and punish an intrinsically harmless activity that many people will find a way to do regardless of your efforts? And if not, what does the alternate scenario look like in practice?
I imagine those are two questions Mayor Nutter struggles to answer. Even though our country’s attitude toward marijuana is changing, the drug remains a controversial subject. Putting myself in Mayor Nutter’s shoes, I would have to be assured that the implementation of the bill worked smoothly. That’s not a given, considering Police Commissioner Charles Ramsay said his department would ignore the bill should it be signed into law.
Nutter remarked that Philadelphia has bigger problems. And he’s right. Strengthening our education system should be everyone’s priority. Many of challenges our city faces, such as generational poverty, retaining college graduates, and attracting smart small business owners, are connected to Philadelphia’s ability to have a strong school system. Nobody wants to raise their children in a less-than-satisfactory school environment. But solving fixable issues — like marijuana reform — should happen even when more pressing problems exist.
I don’t think Mayor Nutter’s choice is necessarily easy to make. There’s much to consider. But realizing that Philadelphia makes about 360 marijuana arrests each month (many of which involve young people of color), it makes me wonder if significantly handicapping future employment opportunities for the city’s rising generation is worth it?
Hopefully our city’s leaders will just say no.