Philadelphia may de-criminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana…

April 13, 2010

There is an effort afoot in Philadelphia to reduce the penalty for possessing small amounts of marijuana for personal use. The effort is being led by Philadelphia's new District Attorney, Seth Williams. This is one way, according to Williams, to ease the crowding of Philadelphia courts.

In late April 2010, a policy will be put into effect in which those in possession of up to 30 grams of marijuana with be charged with only a summary offense. This means that those individuals charged with minor possession may be required to pay a fine, but they will not gain a criminal record. The fines will most likely be set at $200 for first offenses and $300 for subsequent offenses, though these figures have not yet been formalized.

As possession of marijuana remains illegal, those charged with possession for personal use will continue to be arrested. Their cases, however, will be heard in summary court and not criminal court.

The idea behind stepping-down the charge of possession of marijuana from misdemeanor to summary offense is to clear the nearly 3,000 yearly cases dealing with limited marijuana possession from the court dockets. By keeping the small-time offenses to a minimum, Philadelphia's courts are freed up to concentrate on more serious cases such as big-time drug traffickers, as opposed to recreational users.

The new Philadelphia District Attorney Williams is actually working with two of Pennsylvania's Supreme Court justices, Chief Justice Ronald D. Castille and Justice Seamus McCaffery, on this matter and a number of other reforms to Philadelphia's criminal justice system.

Perhaps Philadelphia's precedents will encourage a state-wide shift in criminal justice procedures. Do you think de-criminalizing marijuana possession is a good idea?

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