Marijuana bill amendment would give cops a choice

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Credit: Courtney Sacco/Metro

After the first bill didn’t take, Councilman Jim Kenney revised his plan to curb arrests for small amounts of marijuana.

In January Kenney introduced legislation that would end the requirement to arrest offenders for possessing under an ounce of pot. Under the bill, the offender would still be sent to the District Attorney’s “Small Amount of Marijuana” program, which includes a 3-hour drug abuse class and a $300 fine, but they just wouldn’t be arrested. They would be issued a summons and sent on their merry way.

But the bill ran into opposition from city leaders who felt the bill wasn’t practical.

After a few amendments, Kenney introduced a new bill Thursday, which would essentially turn the small-amount possession into a civil violation instead of a criminal one.

Police would also have the choice to either arrest the offender or hand them a ticket and let them go. And the fine would be reduced from $300 to $25.

“And if someone can’t produce ID, or has an outstanding warrant, possesses a weapon then [police] can arrest somebody, they don’t have to hold everybody,” Kenney said, “And right now they’re holding everybody.”

Kenney said the bill would keep more people out of jail and help keep their records clean.

The fact that “5,000 people per year are getting a criminal record in this city, in this economy, with our poverty rate, is insane,” he said.

The money collected from the fines would go to the health department for drug education, “and everyone goes on their way without a big mess of a criminal record and further disability in getting a job,” he added.

In regards to how the administration will see this bill: “I don’t know what they’re open to, but I’m giving them all of the opportunities to say they are, and if they continue to say no I’m going to ask them, ‘Why?’ If this passes it clearly gives them the opportunity to do this this way. It is a choice.”

Mark McDonald, spokesperson for Mayor Michael Nutter, said “We will offer a perspective on it if and when there’s a hearing before a council committee.”

Kenney said no matter what he wants the bill passed before council breaks for its summer recess in June.

“It’s happening,” he said. “Something’s going to get passed before the summer starts.”


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