💡 Get Philly smart 💡
with BP’s free daily newsletter

Read the news of the day in less than 10 minutes — not that we’re counting.

Since Philadelphia officially decriminalized the possession of a small amount of marijuana in October, pot-related arrests have plummeted and the city anticipates to save millions of dollars in policing and court costs. But that doesn’t mean public officials are telling you to get super baked all the time.

Former councilman and soon-to-be-announced mayoral candidate Jim Kenney was among of panel of five who discussed pot decriminalization Tuesday during an open forum on Temple’s campus. The other panelists were:

  • Lt. Brian Sprowal, Philadelphia Police Department
  • Charles Leone, Executive Director of Temple University Police
  • Tondala Bausano, Assistant Director of the Philadelphia Police Scientific Services Division
  • Mark Denys, Director of Student Health Services, Temple University

Here are the takeaways:

Philly is going to save a lot of money now that pot’s kinda not as illegal

Marijuana decriminalization went into effect on Oct. 20 by a bill sponsored by Kenney. It stipulates that anyone found in possession of less than 30 grams of marijuana cannot be arrested for that, but is instead given a $25 ticket. Citations of $100 are given to individuals caught toking up in public.

The policing and court costs associated with arresting, booking and processing small-time drug offenders is great: Kenney estimated that the city will save $4 million a year in police costs and $3 million a year in court costs, meaning “another seven million we can send to the school system.”

Those costs also include man hours spent in the city’s forensics lab testing material after seizure — some of that won’t need to happen anymore.

Sorry, Jim Kenney still doesn’t want you to smoke pot

The now-former councilman hinted at his upcoming mayoral run, saying during the panel: “If I’m in another position, I want to tweak [the marijuana policy] as times goes on.” But he emphasized that the bill isn’t a gateway to full pot legalization — it’s a way to make the penalty fit the crime.

“You don’t need handcuffs to get people to understand that sometimes the things they do aren’t good for them,” he said.

But officials do think it’s a gateway to better police-community relations

Kenney and PPD Lt. Sprowal agreed that not arresting folks with less than an ounce on them is a way to foster a more positive relationship between police and the community members they serve — especially as race relations as they relate to policing have taken center stage in recent months.

“We do not want to alienate the police department from its citizens,” Sprowal said, adding that not handcuffing and arresting people for small-time drug use is an integral part of that.

Commish Ramsey has apparently changed his mind on this (says Kenney)

Back in June, Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsay said that if the city passed a bill decriminalizing possession of small amounts of weed, the police would ignore it, saying that state law will always trump city ordinances. But when that was pointed out Tuesday, Kenney said Ramsay has indicated that’s not the case anymore.

Kenney explained: “When we negotiated with the mayor, [Ramsay] called me himself the day of the vote and he said, ‘I don’t agree with you, but you are the civilian government. When you pass this, I will enforce it to the best of my ability, and I give you my word.’”

And officials really don’t think they’ll have a problem with state police anyway

Technically state police can still arrest you for possession of a small amount of pot. But Kenney said these opportunities are rare — they’d only occur if state police were on a liquor enforcement call at a bar or if they’re patrolling the highway. And public officials roundly agree that if you’re high on the highway, you should be arrested.

Anna Orso was a reporter/curator at Billy Penn from 2014 to 2017.