Philadelphia will decriminalize marijuana possession and public consumption starting October 20, making it the largest U.S. city to do so and ending decades of racially discriminatory drug policy.
Under decriminalization, possession of less than 30 grams of weed will be punishable by a $25 ticket, and public consumption by a $100 fine or the completion of nine hours of community service. Under current laws, possession is met with a $200 fine plus mandatory viewing of a video on ‘the dangers of drug abuse’ which, much like The Miracle of Life in seventh grade classrooms, has become an outdated joke.
Similar to those of Washington, D.C., indisputable statistics prove that racial inequality and discrimination are rampant in current weed policy in Philly. The ongoing ‘stop and frisk program’ permits cops to stop whomever they deem suspicious and search them outright, encouraging the perpetuation of racial profiling. Blacks and Latinos account for 83% of 4,000 possession arrests each year.
Numbers like these attracted the attention of the American Civil Liberties Union and other civil rights organizations, which lobbied strongly for decriminalization, eventually winning a 13-3 council vote on the topic on June 19.
The racial disparity in weed-related arrests nationwide has made marijuana enforcement laws an indisputable civil rights issue, as defined by unequal treatment under the law. With more media attention on the topic and individual victories like this one, it’s hopeful that drug laws around the nation will continue to change and the skewed system of the 'drug war' years will eventually only exist in history books.