Our collective buzz was killed last week when Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey said the Philadelphia Police Department would remain tough on weed, despite City Council passing a bill decriminalizing small amounts of the stuff.

Just a day after a decriminalization ordinance passed by a veto-proof majority, Ramsey told media that “state law trumps city ordinances”—and, due to Pennsylvania law, his force would continue arresting at will.

“We still have to treat it as a misdemeanor, until we are told otherwise by state law,” Ramsey said on Friday, adding: “I am not in favor at all of any form of legalization.”

Council’s action — to make getting caught with less than an ounce a $25 fine instead of an arrestable offense — was a long-time coming, and largely the result of both the national conversation on pot that’s turned 180 degrees over the last 40 years, and local groups like Philly NORML coordinating a massive effort in front of and behind the scenes to legalize the stuff. Much of that conversation has focused on the racial disparity of marijuana-related arrests, of which African-Americans represent a gigantic majority.

According to the Marijuana Policy Project, a D.C.-based nonprofit organization dedicated to regulating pot like alcohol, Ramsey’s stance is nothing new.

“Philadelphia is definitely not an anomaly,” says Morgan Fox, MPP’s communications manager. “While most police officers don’t necessarily want to ignore the will of the people, leadership is always quick to point out that changes in local law do not affect their ability to continue to enforce state and federal laws against marijuana possession.”

Some of the best data on decriminalization implementation looks at Chicago. That city passed a decriminalization ordinance in 2012. Afterwards, arrests for marijuana possession actually went down 21 percent. And while that sounds great, it’s only half the story.

According to a report conducted by the Illinois Consortium on Drug Policy, Chicago represented the worst implementation of any Illinois municipality which had decriminalized, perhaps because of race.

“Of all the municipalities evaluated, Chicago had one of the worst levels of implementation. For every single ticket written after the ordinance was implemented, more than 14 arrests occurred. Only 7% of cases involving misdemeanor marijuana possession resulted in a ticket in Chicago, with the remaining 93% resulting in arrest,” according to the study.

The existence of such a local ordinance had the ability to influence police, but it was more the exception than rule in Chicago.

Sadly, geographic disparity by area continued in Chicago even after the decriminalization ordinance passed. “Most arrests, both pre ordinance and post ordinance, occurred in neighborhoods that were 90% or more non-white, with the greatest number of arrests occurring on the South and West sides of Chicago … Of the 25 communities with the highest rates of arrests, almost all were 90% African American,” according to the report.

“It usually becomes a matter of individual officer discretion as to whether they make good use of their time and resources and follow the local law,” adds Fox, “or waste their efforts enforcing state marijuana laws against people for possessing a substance safer than alcohol. Good cops do the former.”

Hope isn’t all lost, of course: Democratic gubernatorial candidate Tom Wolf supports decriminalizing marijuana at the state level.

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.

2 Responses

  1. 6/24 Morning Buzz | PoliticsPA

    […] no bombshell but … York Daily Record: Editorial: Constant turnpike hikes taking a toll Phillynow.com: On police disregarding weed decriminalization, ‘Philadelphia is definitely not an anomoly’ […]

  2. Daryl Scott

    Great article I hope marijuana wouldn’t be legalize on all states like Missouri, well if you could actually think of it marijuana has a positive effect like other substance and that is why Missouri substance recovery centers are offering treatment to other kinds of substance not just marijuana but it would be wasted when marijuana is legalized because you can buy marijuana and use it everywhere, and because of that drug, substance user and substance dependent won’t be bother buying that for a low price.
    Well a friend of mine in Missouri substance recovery centers often told me that if Marijuana is legalized then he will be using it every day and I think it’s starting now, substance abuser aren’t afraid of the law and what’s alarming is they actually hide it everywhere including the other latest news about a substance called bath salts where an individual actually devoured the face of a beggar, and now that guy is on substance recovery on his substance abuse of bath salts, it’s not funny if you would actually think of that!
    And they not just there, they’re everywhere every day we met a lot of people and some of them might be a user, seller and distributor of substance, which makes recovery of addicts in the world a not safe place to live with well in the beginning substance are sold to help the needy but now they used substance to earn money, which makes doctor’s and pharmaceutical companies be the only people who earns an amount when they offer a high price substance which later on not being effective at recovery of substance.
    One day in a hot weather in Missouri I’ve read an article about something called noises that you can hear in your ears at first I thought it’s like an addiction to substance but what’s surprise me is that no substance recovery is created to cure that disease or illness and that when a doctor gives a substance prescription it would just lessen but it won’t cure you and later on you will need a surgery but the surgery doesn’t guarantee a hundred percent success and the prescribed substance recovery drug that your using won’t cured you imagine that?
    Prevention is better than cure but I guess you can’t say that right now if you’re feeling a headache you need a pain reliever if you can’t breathe normal you need an inhaler see these medical products are actually not helping at all the right way to be healthy is to start on you own start exercise, healthy diet and check the food you’re eating well everyone has a computer on their house so it would be ashamed if no one can check the food they’re eating.
    It’s never too late to stop the substance dependency and substance abuse that is why countless of Missouri substance recovery centers are founded to help the poor and the user also those individual who wants to stop their substance addiction and start a substance recovery, and every day we watch and stories of substance recovery, like Missouri substance recovery which has stories of recovery too.
    Missouri Substance Recovery


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.