Just over a year ago, the powers that be in Philadelphia effectively decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana by offering offenders the chance to enroll in a three-hour class that would expunge the offense from their records. Not only did this give Philadelphia police more time and energy to focus on more serious crimes, it has also saved the city a pretty sizable Ziploc bag of green stuff.
“We were spending thousands of dollars for when someone possessed $10 or $15 worth of weed,” District Attorney Seth Williams tells the Philadelphia Daily News. “It just didn’t make any sense.”
Under the program, being caught with up to 30 grams of marijuana is no longer a misdemeanor but a summary offense. By simply paying $200 to attend the three-hour class on the ills of drug use and abuse, the arrestee’s record is wiped clean of the offense.
Before this change, offenders faced up to $500 in fines and possible, though unlikely jail time. If the suspect fought the charges, this meant expenses for the city — prosecutors, judges, lab tests, public defenders, etc. By all but decriminalizing pot, Williams estimates that the city has saved $2 million in the last 12 months.
Additionally, police tell the News that there has been no noticeable impact on the quality of life in Philadelphia since the program went into effect.
Looking at the bigger picture, DA Williams says the current way most U.S. authorities treat drug possession is shortsighted.
“I can put someone in jail for 90 days because they possess crack. But if we don’t get them the help they need for their addiction, when they get out of jail, they’re just going to be a 90-day-older crack addict,” he explains. “We have to treat drug addiction as a public-health problem, not just a criminal-justice problem.”
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