PhillyNORML activist and US Marine Corps combat veteran Mike Whiter received the first citation this morning at 8:00AM.
Whiter negotiated with PPD Chief Inspector Joe Sullivan and Civil Affairs department head Captain Stephen Glenn to engage in the peaceful action. Whiter, an underground medical cannabis patient, walked into the outdoor rotunda at City Hall then lit a marijuana joint. He was issued a $100 ticket for public cannabis smoking.
Whiter’s interaction with police was brief and upbeat. Photos of this morning’s citation can be found here.
“Today, I smoked marijuana in the center of City Hall in Philadelphia. Something that I would have gotten arrested and processed for yesterday was only a $100 code violation today,” said Whiter, “This is a huge step in Philadelphia and this law is framework for the rest of the state to follow, but we still don’t have safe, legal access to medicine. This war is far from over, but we have won a battle in Philadelphia.”
The new policy will largely stop the procedure of using custodial arrests (handcuffs and holding cells) for small amounts of cannabis. Philadelphia Police will now issue civil citations: $25 for possession of up to 30 grams and a $100 fine for smoking in public.
Legislation to enact the policy shift was sponsored by Councilman James Kenney after he spoke with Chris Goldstein, NA Poe and Anne Gemmell of PhillyNORML.
PhillyNORML has been reporting on the disturbing racial disparity of marijuana arrests since 2008. Using data from the Pennsylvania Uniform Crime Reporting System we found that more than 80% of those arrested were African American. No other crime in the city, including possession of heroin and cocaine, showed this trend.
The were two committee hearings and a full Council session with testimony from members of the public, community groups and advocacy organizations. The full City Council ultimately passed Bill 140377-A in a 14-2 vote. Mayor Michael Nutter was initially resistant to the change, but then he embraced the new policy.
During the official signing of the bill in September Councilman Kenney said:” We hope young people will be spared the life-altering consequences of a criminal record, such as limited job prospects, inability to obtain student loans or even join the armed services.”
Mayor Nutter commented that, “the punishment needs to be proportionate to the crime, and these are common sense changes that will have a positive impact on many Philadelphians.”
Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey has vowed to implement the measure.
Comedian and activist NA Poe welcomed the change. “The fact that marijuana advocates and the police can work together to find common ground on this issue shows the groundbreaking progress that has been made in our city.”
PhillyNORML co-chair Chris Goldstein said the policy shift is a significant milestone. “We join other cities like Washington DC in dismantling the institutional racism that has been inherent to marijuana prohibition. This is a win-win for cannabis consumers and for the entire city. Few policies can save millions of dollars and serve the cause of social justice. Reducing marijuana penalties achieves both.”
PhillyNORML is hosting a victory party on Friday October 24, 2014 at The Legendary Dobbs on South Street. Featuring local bands Bong Hits for Jesus, Little War Twins and more along with speeches from activists. The event is a fundraiser for PhillyNORML to work on statewide marijuana decriminalization.