Whether or not it gets the approval of City Council and the signature of Mayor Michael Nutter, Councilman at Large Jim Kenney is introducing legislation to end mandatory custodial arrests for possession of small amounts of marijuana.
Under Kenney’s legislation, police would not be required to arrest and take the person into custody – a process that usually ties up 2 police officers for an average of 2 to 3 hours per arrest – instead, police would issue a summons for the person to appear at the District Attorney’s “Small Amount of Marijuana” program, which includes a 3-hour drug abuse class and a $200 fine.
In announcing his legislation, Kenney said, “Our police are already stretched thin. By eliminating the mandatory requirement that police must arrest and process any individual caught with any amount of marijuana, we can free up an estimated 17,000 police hours each year to fight violent crime. That’s over 2,100 8-hour shifts, a tremendous law enforcement resource that the Commissioner could better utilize.”
Saying there were “4,200 arrests for marijuana possession in the city of Philadelphia in 2012, 563 of which were juveniles,” Kenney described his legislation as “a smart and reasonable measure that recognizes the need to prioritize our limited police resources.”
Citing the statistically implied discriminatory nature of the arrests, where 82% of those arrested in 2012 were African Americans, Kenney said, “There is a real consequence to these arrests. People are handcuffed, brought to jail, fingerprinted and processed for what most will agree is a relatively minor offense. When arrests are made, the unexpected can happen, especially when dealing with juveniles. We should try to avoid those situations as much as possible and this legislation will help in that regard.”
Kenney also cited the harm done to the arrested individuals who end up with police records because of the mandatory arrest requirement for marijuana possession. While these records can eventually be expunged, the process can be lengthy and time-consuming, leaving the person in legal limbo for up to a year at times.
Mentioning some states have moved to decriminalize, if not legalize, the recreational use of marijuana, Kenney said, “It’s time for a reality check and a recognition that with our limited police resources, we must make smart decisions about what our law-enforcement priorities should be.”