Pot Decriminalization Produces $9-million in Savings for Philadelphia
A vivid example of value from decriminalization of possessing small amounts of marijuana occurred at the Philadelphia airport recently, a few days after the release of a report from two prominent organizations that called for the national decriminalization of personal use/possession of marijuana and other illicit drugs.
This example, interestingly, occurred on the day of the second anniversary of Philadelphia’s implementation of decriminalization, the enforcement practice that replaces arrests for marijuana possession with issuance of traffic-ticket like citations. That enforcement change has saved the City of Philadelphia at least $9-million in costs related to arrests and adjudication for marijuana possession, according to calculations by local analysts.
The airport discovery of a small amount of marijuana in the luggage of three-time Philadelphia GOP mayoral candidate Sam Katz resulted in embarrassment for Katz but not his arrest and court proceedings. Authorities issued a $25 citation to Katz that allowed the nationally respected municipal-finance-expert-turned-award-winning-documentary-filmmaker to continue to Florida for a planned fishing trip.
Before Philadelphia became the largest city in America to implement decriminalization of simple possession of marijuana on October 20, 2014, thousands endured arrest annually -- arrests that produced the stain of a life-altering criminal record. During the years 2012-2013 before decriminalization in Philadelphia police arrested 8,580 adults and juveniles. Philadelphia possession arrest figures for 2015 and part of 2016, after implementation of decriminalization, list around 1,500 Philadelphians arrested for marijuana possession – a marked decrease from pre-decriminalization days.
"Decriminalization has been a resounding success for the municipal government and for cannabis consumers in Philadelphia," PhillyNORML official Chris Goldstein said. Goldstein, an expert on cannabis policy, writes a weekly column on cannabis issue for philly.com, the news website for Philadelphia’s two daily newspapers.
Days before the decriminalization of marijuana possession anniversary in Philadelphia, a report issued jointly by Human Rights Watch (HRW) and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) called on federal and state authorities to decriminalize personal use and possession of drugs due to the documented failures of the War on Drugs. The two organizations recommended a shift from harsh enforcement to policies of prevention and harm reduction.
“Criminalizing drug use simply has not worked as a matter of practice,” stated the HRW-ACLU report. “Criminalizing drug possession has caused dramatic and unnecessary harms…both for individuals and for communities.” The report noted that police make more arrests for marijuana possession annually than for the violent crimes of murder, rape, robbery and aggravated assault combined.