We woke up Monday morning stoked. Turned out, our chunk of Southeast PA asphalt was about to become a stoner’s paradise. Philly has legalized it! A chicken in every pot and pot in every brownie, the Inky has reported (sort of.)
OK, not so much. What they actually reported was a little different, and it totally killed our buzz.
“Under a policy to take effect later this month, prosecutors will charge such cases as summary offenses rather than as misdemeanors,” the Inquirer read. “People arrested with up to 30 grams of the drug—slightly more than an ounce —may have to pay a fine but face no risk of a criminal record.”
D.A. Seth Williams was quoted as saying the war on drugs shouldn’t be a war on “the kid smoking a joint on 55th Street. We have to go after the large traffickers." He’s backed by Ron Castille and Seamus McCaffery, both Philly guys who sit on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.
It was also reported that this “new approach” would save the city hundreds of thousands of dollars, as all small marijuana cases (besides the freedomous libertine on 55th Street) would “be heard by a special late-afternoon summary court in Courtroom 408 at the Criminal Justice Center. This "quality of life" court handles offenses such as public drinking and disorderly conduct.”
Those guilty of puffing the magic dragon would still be arrested and fingerprinted, they’d just be treated as conductors of disorder rather than drug offenders. The initiative, like many state marijuana law easings, is mostly about money.
But, of course, what’s really the case doesn’t always matter. The blogosphere caught reefer madness within minutes. Even national Democratic blog Daily Kos got a little bit of the action. A piece titled Philadelphia Moves Toward Sanity in the War on Drugs insinuated Seth Williams is all but decriminalizing the plant. The diarist attempted to paint Williams as a “clean break” from Lynn Abraham due to this single action (Philly Now would say otherwise). It was on Daily Kos’ Recommended Diaries list all morning.
It got so bad, D.A. Williams had to send out a new afternoon press release. “We are not decriminalizing marijuana,” Williams scorned. “Any effort like that would be one for the legislature to undertake. The penalty available for these minimal amount offenses remains exactly the same. What we are doing is properly dealing with cases involving minimal amounts of marijuana in the most efficient and cost effective process possible. Those arrested for these offenses will still be restrained, identified and processed by police in police custody. They will still have to answer to the charges, but they will be doing so in a speedier and more efficient process.”
Then, the D.A. went on Dom Giordano’s 1210 radio show a little after 9:30pm to clear things up. (Let it be known that we hadn’t listened to conservative talk radio in a few years and couldn’t get over how monotonous and boring it really is; these people help dictate right-wing policy?!)
The tedious Giordano had just earlier resorted to reading misleading headlines off the Drudge Report (they apparently all do this) and repeating, over 10 minutes, a hypothetical, irrelevant question: What would you think if Sarah Palin wanted to decriminalize marijuana?
Answer: Who gives a shit?
Just as we began tying the noose, Williams came on and basically repeated his earlier press release for the elderly radio listeners to hear. He said the only change in his new policy is that marijuana cases are going to be prosecuted more efficiently and effectively. The new policy, he said, wouldn’t subpoena police officers but would rather get offenders out of court quickly with a fine and possible community service.
Williams also repeated a point he’s been into as of late. The fact that 59 percent of court cases in Philly get thrown out for various reasons, one of which being the D.A. Office’s readiness. This, it was implied, would help change that, as the D.A. would no longer be dealing with these small drug offenses. Williams has stated in the past this figure comes from victims and witnesses not showing up to court.
While we don’t want to over-hype this as so many have now done, it’ll be interesting to see where Pennsylvania stands after the November mid-term elections, in which Californians will decide whether or not to decriminalize the $14 billion dollar Golden State cash crop (56 percent of that state’s residents support doing so as of now). Many turned-laws of the land have begun with states’ courts and ballot referendums propelling federal law to make the switch. This issue seems to be heading in that direction.
Hot off the press release: FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Pennsylvanians for Medical Marijuana www.pa4mmj.org WHO: Pennsylvania House Health and Human Services committee WHAT: Public Hearings on HB 1393, medical marijuana in PA WHEN: December 2, 2009 Room 140 at 11AM, Main Capitol in Harrisburg A Press Conference with Rep. Cohen and PA4MMJ patients will take place at 10:00AM at the East Rotunda Landmark Medical Marijuana Hearings Tomorrow in Harrisburg December 1, 2009 Philadelphia- Advocates and patients with the group Pennsylvanians for Medical Marijuana (PA4MMJ) will testify tomorrow before the PA House of Representatives Health and Human Services Committee during hearings on HB 1393, The Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act. These will be the first public hearings on medical cannabis in the history of the Commonwealth. On April 29, 2009 Rep. Mark B. Cohen introduced the bill to legalize medical marijuana with PA4MMJ. HB1393 would allow registered patients to grow six plants or purchase cannabis through Compassion Centers. A provision in the bill allows these medical cannabis sales to be taxed. At a press conference at the bill’s introduction Cohen said, "It's time to create a new, honest image for marijuana. One as a form of treatment that when prescribed by responsible doctors could help thousands of patients across this commonwealth." Three newspaper Editorial Boards endorsed...
Philly NORML reports on a new Quinnipac poll: Polling shows a total 59% in favor of medical marijuana, with Republicans in favor 49% to 47% against. Democrats are strongly in support with 67% and only 26% against. All regions of PA show above 50% support except Northwest PA, which shows 47% in support. Across all ages, incomes, and college education, medical marijuana remains a "good idea", with lowest polling at 56% for citizens over 55 years of age. With a sponsor in the PA Senate building support among colleagues in preparation for the introduction of a bill identical to HB 1393, these polling numbers go to show that the citizens of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania don't want to see this issue languish - they want action, and our government is responding. For the full poll and analysis, check out Philly NORML's blog....
A number of investigative and watchdog bodies actually operate inside city government. Each office has its limitations, however, leaving oversight on certain areas of government thin to nonexistent. Specifically, City Council manages to largely escape scrutiny.