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 fell nearly 75 percent and arrests and citations combined were still 42 percent below the total arrests made by the department during the same period the previous year, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported.
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 actual 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.