I Was Gonna Decriminalize Weed...But Then I Got High

By Randy LoBasso
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 3 | Posted Apr. 6, 2010

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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.

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1. malcolm kyle said... on Apr 6, 2010 at 09:17AM

“The war on drugs is a tale of a once great and free nation which fell down a rat hole into a fantasy world riddled with peculiar and dystopian logic.

Prohibition is a sickening horror and the ocean of incompetence, corruption and human wreckage it has left in its wake is almost endless.

Prohibition has decimated generations and criminalized millions for a behavior which is entwined in human existence, and for what other purpose than to uphold the defunct and corrupt thinking of a minority of misguided, self-righteous Neo-Puritans and degenerate demagogues who wish nothing but unadulterated destruction on the rest of us.

Based on the unalterable proviso that drug use is essentially an unstoppable and ongoing human behavior which has been with us since the dawn of time, any serious reading on the subject of past attempts at any form of drug prohibition would point most normal thinking people in the direction of sensible regulation.”

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2. Anonymous said... on Apr 6, 2010 at 11:31AM

“its about time , the revenue that will be generated is crazy , that means some prison guards will lose jobs,but the powers that be, have to take this one more step, legalize ti tax it , they will come up with away to make it look good, the country needs the cash, its not like booze ,weed,doesnt make you go off someone, you become more peaceful”

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3. Dan said... on Apr 6, 2010 at 01:45PM

“Interesting, journalism, Randy. I didn't "insinuate" anything- I directly quoted a newspaper story that said the DA is "... moving to all but decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana for personal use in an effort to unclog Philadelphia's crowded court dockets." And I noted that they would be moving to using summary offenses.

The internets tell me that decriminalizing means this:

Decriminalization is the abolition of criminal penalties in relation to certain acts, perhaps retroactively, though perhaps regulated permits or fines might still apply (for contrast, see: Legalization).

Are they doing that? Well, as the article notes, they are basically doing as much of that as they can, without getting an actual change in law. Some might even say that they are all but "moving to all but decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana for personal use in an effort to unclog Philadelphia's crowded court dockets."”

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