Philadelphia Is the Latest City to Stop Prosecuting Minor Marijuana Charges
District Attorney Larry Krasner has already declined some 300 cannabis cases brought on by local police, and will now extend that brotherly love to anyone caught with less than an ounce of weed.
Published on August 7, 2018

The City of Brotherly Love became a little friendlier this week. In a new memo released by the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office, city prosecutors were instructed to drop all charges and dismiss any present or future cases involving less than 30 grams of personal use marijuana. 

According to Philly’s local NBC News affiliate, Krasner’s office has already rejected nearly 300 minor marijuana possession cases presented to them by the Philadelphia Police Department since January, and, per the new DA memo, will now continue that trend for cannabis charges involving roughly an ounce of weed or less. 

“This was seen as something that was a critical component of… focusing on serious cases that pose a threat to public safety,” Philly DA spokesman Ben Waxman told NBC10. “The hope is that people will not needlessly have interactions with the criminal justice system."

Personal use marijuana has been decriminalized in Philadelphia since 2014, but like many city-specific cannabis reforms, enforcement of that rule is still at the discretion of individual police officers. In practice, though, offering cops a judgement call has resulted in intense racial disparities when it comes to using handcuffs versus citations. Currently, 90% of Philadelphia police interactions involving personal use pot end in civil infractions, and not arrest.

"What we're talking about is the 10 percent or so that are charged, as they used to be, as misdemeanors in court," Krasner told reporters in February, when he first announced intentions to end minor marijuana prosecutions. "We are going to tell them to drop any cases that are simply marijuana possession — not selling, not possession with the intent to deliver."

Two hours up Interstate 95 in New York City, a similar decriminalization correction was recently implemented by Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance. In the Big Apple, racist cannabis policing discrepancies are so blatant that 9 out of 10 marijuana arrests target people of color, despite equal rates of pot use across all racial backgrounds.

In Pennsylvania on a whole, the state’s newly-implemented medical marijuana program is picking up steam, but with a relatively strict set of qualifying conditions and high prices at dispensaries, local leaders are already looking towards total legalization as both a financial opportunity and social necessity. In the meantime, Krasner’s office is working to ensure that fewer citizens get criminal records for non-violent drug offenses, even if the rest of the Keystone State is slow to catch up.

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Zach Harris
Zach Harris is a writer based in Philadelphia whose work has appeared on Noisey, First We Feast, and Jenkem Magazine. You can find him on Twitter @10000youtubes complaining about NBA referees.
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