In an ardent display of just how much the criminal justice system revolves around the drug war, the city of Philadelphia has seen a drastic fall in arrests after decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana.
In the year since the law took effect, arrests have fallen nearly 75 percent and arrests and citations combined are still 42 percent below the total arrests made by the department during the same time the previous year, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports.
Spurned by then-City-Councilman Jim Kenney, who went on to make it a top priority of his successful bid for the Democratic mayoral nomination, the law made possession of 30 grams or less of marijuana punishable by a $25 fine, and public use by a $100 fine.
It took effect on Oct. 20, 2014.
In a recent interview, Kenney said that, if elected mayor, he would attempt to implement policies that would expunge the records of those arrested before the law took effect, and fight for complete legalization.
“My goal is zero arrests,” Kenney said. “I think it’s worked here and in other cities.”
Philly police Lt. John Stanford said the department has started accepting more juveniles caught with marijuana into a diversionary program, which could account for some of the drop but admitted that since the passage of the reform, officers are prioritizing other crimes.
“It’s not the biggest challenge on our plate,” he said. “In some of our areas, we’re going to be focused more on shootings and robberies. Marijuana may take a backseat in those situations.”
Derek Riker, chief of diversion courts at the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office, said those arrested for possessing marijuana that are accepted into the cities diversionary program are completing the program at a higher rate than ever before.
“It seems people who do get arrested for weed are taking it a little more seriously and making a bit more of an effort,” he said. “I think because they’re surprised they’re getting arrested, because everyone else is getting a ticket.”
The program allows people to have their case dismissed if they pay a $200 fine and attend a class at the community justice center.
Riker says his office is handling only about a dozen marijuana-related cases weekly since the law change, compared to about 55 before.
Decriminalization has also saved taxpayers money by not having to house petty drug offenders and expend resources pursuing the sticky icky. Kenney said that if elected, he would commission a study on just how much decriminalization has saved the city.
WILMINGTON, Del. — Voting along party lines, the Delaware state Senate gave final approval Thursday to a measure that decriminalizes the possession and private use of small amounts of marijuana, and Gov. Jack Markell almost immediately signed the legislation into law.
Delaware Gov. Jack Markell signed a marijuana decriminalization bill Thursday after it passed the Democratic-controlled Senate. Republicans, who did not support the bill, argued that decriminalizing marijuana would encourage more young people to us USA TODAY
The bill, sponsored by Democratic Rep. Helene Keeley,, allows Delawareans to possess up to an ounce of marijuana and use the drug privately without facing criminal sanctions.
Criminal penalties for simple possession will be replaced with a civil $100 fine. The law takes effect in six months.
The decriminalization measure, which cleared the House earlier this month, passed despite significant opposition from police groups, and from Republicans.
Selling marijuana remains criminal under the law. No Republican voted in favor of the legislation in either the House or the Senate.
"This is a vote we're going to really, really regret," Republican Sen. Colin Bonini said. "Would you want your kid smoking weed. I think the answer is overwhelmingly no."
In a statement after Thursday's vote, Robert Capecchi, a lobbyist with the Marijuana Policy Project in Washington, said "marijuana is an objectively less harmful substance than alcohol, and most Americans now agree it should be treated that way. Delaware has taken an important step toward adopting a more sensible marijuana policy," Capecchi said.
Nineteen other states and the District of Columbia have stopped charging citizens criminally for possessing small amounts of marijuana. In Delaware, like in other states, there is evidence that the law is disproportionately enforced along racial lines, which was a driving force behind the bill's passage.
Blacks in Delaware were three times more likely than whites to be arrested for marijuana possession in 2010, despite accounting for a much smaller portion of the population, according to a 2013 report from the American Civil Liberties Union.
Marijuana arrests previously threatened to saddle Delawareans with a criminal record, something the legislation's supporters believed was unnecessary for a drug that they say poses few risks.
"It's safer for me to choose cannabis over alcohol," Zoe Patchell, a Delaware marijuana activist with Cannabis Bureau of Delaware, said during committee testimony Wednesday.
The bill's supporters did give some ground to opponents, especially those in the law enforcement community. Language added by amendments strictly defines a public place where it will remain criminal to consume marijuana. Public places include any outdoor space within 10 feet of any window or sidewalk.
Delawareans under 21 also still face criminal penalties if caught with marijuana under an amendment added in the House. And it will remain criminal to consume marijuana in a moving vehicle under the current legislation.
Police groups remained concerned throughout legislative debate that decriminalizing marijuana possession could limit their ability to initiate searches that could lead to even more substantial charges for drug dealers and traffickers.
State Attorney General Matt Denn, the state's top law enforcement official, said Thursday that he supported the decriminalization measure. "I've said for some time that we're generally supportive of possession of small amounts being treated as a civil rather than a criminal offense," Denn said.
VIA USA Today
The Jamaican cabinet has approved a bill that legalizes the possession of small amounts of marijuana.
It means that for the first time the country's Rastafarian community, which uses the herb for religious purposes, could be able to smoke it legally.
The bill also envisages a licensing authority for the cultivation, sale and distribution of marijuana for medical and therapeutic purposes.
It goes to the senate this week for approval.
The bill also proposes that the smoking of marijuana will be banned in public spaces.
South and Central America and the Caribbean countries have been battling the impact of drug trafficking and drug use for decades.
Cocaine and marijuana produced in the region is transported through many countries, their citizens turned into consumers by the trade.
But the BBC's Candace Piette says that as trafficking and drug consumption have continued to grow, many governments have begun to recognize that heavy-handed tactics and the crackdown on drugs has failed.
Elsewhere in the region:
• In Mexico, Colombia and Argentina marijuana possession in small amounts was decriminalized a few years ago, and Argentina is drafting a set of proposals to loosen restrictions on possession
• In Guatemala, President Otto Perez Molina is proposing moves to push for the legalization of marijuana and potentially other drugs
• Chile and Costa Rica are also debating the introduction of medical marijuana policies
• Uruguay last year became the first country in the world to approve the growth, sale and distribution of marijuana
VIA BBC News
WASHINGTON, DC — The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee’s Subcommittee on Government Operations held a hearing Friday on legislation recently passed by the District of Columbia that eliminates criminal penalties for marijuana possession.
The panel, chaired by Rep. John Mica (R-FL), heard testimony describing severe racial disparities in the enforcement of D.C. marijuana laws and strong support among D.C. lawmakers and residents for eliminating criminal penalties for marijuana possession.
In testimony Friday before the subcommittee, Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) criticized the decision to hold a congressional hearing on D.C.’s decision to reform its local marijuana laws as a step towards reducing racial disparities in its criminal justice system.
Congresswoman Norton, and Seema Sadanandan, another witness who testified on behalf of the American Civil Liberties Union of the Nation’s Capital, described how people of color are disproportionately targeted and arrested for marijuana law violations in D.C. and thereafter experience lifelong barriers to employment, housing and other necessities on account of a marijuana arrest record.
Speaking to a reporter with CQ Roll Call, Rep. John Fleming (R-LA) indicated he plans to introduce a congressional resolution to overturn D.C.’s marijuana decriminalization law and Rep. Mica said that his views on whether Congress should intervene are “evolving.”
In closing remarks during Friday’s hearing, Rep. Mica indicated he might soon hold an additional hearing on the D.C. measure.
“It’s outrageous that Congress is trying to sabotage D.C.’s success in ending marijuana arrests,” said Grant Smith, deputy director of national affairs with the Drug Policy Alliance. “Congress should follow the lead of lawmakers in D.C. and reform federal marijuana laws.”
Last year, the American Civil Liberties Union of the Nation’s Capital and the Washington Lawyers’ Committee on Civil Rights and Urban Affairs released groundbreaking reports documenting enormous racial disparities in arrests for marijuana possession in D.C.
These reports found that the majority of all drug arrests in the District are for simple possession of marijuana and the vast majority of the thousands arrested each year in the District are African American. African Americans in D.C. are eight times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than white people – even though government surveys show that both groups use marijuana at similar rates.
The “Marijuana Possession Decriminalization Amendment Act of 2014 (Council Bill 20-409)” was passed 10-1 by the D.C. Council and signed by Mayor Vincent Gray prior to its transmission to Congress.
It eliminates the threat of arrest for possessing marijuana and ensures that people are no longer saddled with life-long convictions that make it difficult to obtain employment and housing. The legislation also prohibits law enforcement from using the smell of marijuana as grounds for stopping and searching a person.
Instead of arresting people, the bill would impose a $25 civil fine for possession as well as forfeiture of the marijuana and any paraphernalia used to consume or carry it. This legislation is widely viewed as a model for other jurisdictions looking to reduce racial disparities in the criminal justice system.
Under federal law, legislation passed by the District of Columbia cannot become law until it is first made available to Congress for a predetermined period of time. Barring action by Congress, the D.C. Council projects this legislation will take effect on July 17th.
“It is inexcusable that congressional time and resources are being spent to criticize local officials for eliminating racist and ineffective marijuana laws when large swaths of the American public support an end to marijuana prohibition,” added Smith. “Members of Congress like Rep. John Fleming who say they are earnest about advancing public health and safety should take a hard look at the devastation wrought by marijuana prohibition.”
Friday’s hearing before the Subcommittee on Government Operations was the third in recent months to examine marijuana policy. Although the first two hearings examined the Obama administration’s response to state-and-local level marijuana law reforms and called only federal witnesses, Friday’s hearing was the first to call up local witnesses.
Last week, a floor amendment that would have prohibited the Veterans Administration from spending federal funds to enforce a directive prohibiting VA medical staff from recommending or even discussing medical marijuana with their military veteran patients was supported by 195 members of Congress including more than twenty Republicans.
Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY) and Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI), two members of the subcommittee that held Friday’s hearing, are cosponsors of the “Respect State Marijuana Laws Act of 2013.” House Bill 1523 would amend federal law to exempt any person acting in compliance with the marijuana laws in their state from prosecution for violating federal marijuana laws.
Authored by Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), this legislation has received bipartisan support from more than two dozen members of Congress. Rep. Rohrabacher recently announced in Congress plans to introduce an amendment on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives that would prohibit the Drug Enforcement Administration from spending federal funds to prosecute persons who are in compliance with the medical marijuana laws of their state.
A poll conducted in April 2013 by Public Policy Polling, and commissioned by the Drug Policy Alliance and Marijuana Policy Project, found three out of four D.C. voters support changing District law to replace criminal penalties for possession of limited amounts of marijuana with a civil fine similar to a traffic ticket.
A poll conducted in January by the Washington Post found 63 percent of D.C. residents in support of not just decriminalizing marijuana, but also taxing and regulating it like alcohol. Recent national surveys by Gallup, Pew Research Center, CNN/ORC, CBS News and other outlets found a majority of Americans support legally regulating the production and sale of marijuana.
Wednesday: Councilmembers to Vote on Decriminalization Bill that Would Reduce Racial Disparities and Re-Prioritize Law Enforcement Resources
With Support of Mayor and Supermajority of Councilmembers, Marijuana Decriminalization Appears Imminent
D.C. lawmakers will vote Wednesday on legislation that would eliminate criminal penalties under District law for the possession of one ounce or less of marijuana for personal use during a meeting of the Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety. The panel of five Councilmembers is expected to approve the measure. The bill would next go before all thirteen Councilmembers for final consideration.
The “Simple Possession of Small Quantities of Marijuana Decriminalization Amendment Act of 2013 (Council Bill 20-409)” would eliminate criminal penalties and instead subject a person in possession of one ounce or less of marijuana to a civil fine. The legislation was introduced in July 2013 by Councilmember Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6) with the support of ten out of thirteen Councilmembers.
WHAT: Committee on Judiciary and Public Safety to Mark-up Bill Decriminalizing Marijuana
WHEN: Wednesday, January 15, 2014 at 11:30AM
WHERE: John A. Wilson Building; Room 412; 1350 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Last year, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Washington Lawyers’ Committee on Civil Rights and Urban Affairs released groundbreaking reports documenting enormous racial disparities in arrests for marijuana possession in D.C. These reports found that the majority of all drug arrests in the District are for simple possession of marijuana and the vast majority of those arrested are African American. Every year, thousands of people are arrested in the District of Columbia for the possession of marijuana. African Americans in D.C. are eight times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than white people – even though government surveys show that both groups use marijuana at similar rates.
“Marijuana possession arrests have disproportionately criminalized African American residents and wasted millions of taxpayer dollars,” said Grant Smith, policy manager with the Drug Policy Alliance’s Office of National Affairs. “This legislation represents a critical first step toward bringing D.C. law into step with public opinion and common sense.”
A poll conducted in April 2013 by Public Policy Polling, and commissioned by the Drug Policy Alliance and Marijuana Policy Project, found three out of four D.C. voters support changing District law to replace criminal penalties for possession of limited amounts of marijuana with a civil fine similar to a traffic ticket. Furthermore, more than 60 percent of D.C. voters in the survey would support a ballot measure similar to those approved by voters in Colorado and Washington in November, which made marijuana legal for adults and directed state officials to regulate and tax marijuana similarly to alcohol. National surveys conducted last year by Gallup and the Pew Research Center found that, for the first time in 40 years of polling on the issue, a majority of Americans support making marijuana legal. The Gallup poll in October found 58 percent support and the Pew Research Center poll in April found 52 percent support. Last week, a CNN/ORC poll found 55 percent support nationwide for making marijuana legal.
During public hearings chaired last October by Councilmember Wells, witnesses criticized the disproportionate enforcement of marijuana laws on African Americans in the District and supported eliminating criminal penalties for possession. However, the Drug Policy Alliance and other witnesses urged Councilmembers to eliminate or significantly reduce the proposed $100 civil fine. The Drug Policy Alliance urged that a $100 fine would be too burdensome for poor residents and that African Americans would continue to be disproportionately punished for marijuana possession. Councilmember Wells is expected to lower the fine for possession to $25 when Councilmembers consider the legislation tomorrow.
In a letter delivered to Councilmember Wells in September, the Drug Policy Alliance and other community groups urged the elimination of the fines for possession and the decriminalization of home cultivation of a small quantity of marijuana. The letter also urged the Council to destroy all marijuana arrest and conviction records maintained by the D.C. government in order to prevent such a record from serving as a barrier to employment and other opportunities for thousands of D.C. residents who currently have a criminal history for marijuana law violations. In December, Councilmember Wells held a public hearing on legislation introduced by Councilmember David Grosso (I-At Large) that would remove from the public domain many marijuana arrest and conviction records maintained by the D.C. government. Advocates have praised Councilmember Wells’ leadership on addressing the harms of failed D.C. marijuana laws.
“All it takes is a single arrest for a small amount of marijuana to set in motion years of denied jobs, housing applications and other basic components to leading a self-sufficient life,” said Smith. “This legislation would help end harmful marijuana arrests and reverse decades of lives derailed by enforcement of marijuana prohibition.”