Medical cannabis in PA

Marijuana arrests down 75 percent since Philly decriminalized

The bad news: There’s still a racial disparity.

Angela Gervasi / Billy Penn

Over the span of the last three years, Philadelphia Police arrested about 9,000 fewer people for marijuana possession than they did the previous three years thanks to the city’s decriminalization policy.

Championed by then-Councilman (now Mayor) Jim Kenney, Philadelphia city government officially decriminalized possessing 30 grams or less of cannabis in 2014, a policy that went into effect in October of that year.

From then through Aug. 31 of this year, Philadelphia Police arrested about 2,900 people for marijuana possession, according to figures provided by the department. In the previous three years before decriminalization went into effect, PPD made nearly 12,000 arrests for marijuana possession in Philadelphia, representing a 75 percent decrease in arrests.

When Philadelphia Police do make arrests nowadays, it’s for buying small amounts, for possessing amounts larger than 30 grams, for unsure amounts or for possessing more than eight grams of hash or concentrates.

As the city’s policy currently stands, police more often than not issue a $25 citation to a person who’s in possession of 30 grams or less of marijuana, while those caught smoking outside can be slapped with a $100 fine. In the last three years, the department has issued about 5,900 citations for possession.

Just a few months after the policy went into effect in Philadelphia, Kenney estimated it would save the city $7 million a year in police and court costs. In April 2016, Kenney’s office said it would conduct a review of the policy that would be complete within a year.

Kenney’s spokeswoman Lauren Hitt said earlier this month that review hasn’t yet begun, but the administration agrees “it’s a worthy subject.” She said officials “will be looking at this issue as well as the data around all decriminalized offenses.”

While arrests are down significantly in Philadelphia, the same can’t be said for most of the rest of the state. A recent report commissioned by the ACLU of Pennsylvania found that outside Philadelphia, there was a 33 percent rise in marijuana possession arrests of adults between 2010 and 2016.

That increase in arrests was attributed by the ACLU largely to Pennsylvania State Police, which doubled its total arrests per year for possession, from 2,221 arrests in 2010 to 4,612 in 2016.

The ACLU study also showed black people are more than eight times more likely than white people to be arrested for marijuana possession statewide. That disparity holds up in Philadelphia, despite overall arrests plunging.

In Philadelphia, 81 percent of the people arrested for marijuana possession since decriminalization in November 2014 through June of this year were black, according to data from the Pennsylvania Uniform Crime Reporting System. The black share of Philadelphia’s population is about 44 percent.