This City Could Stop Testing Parolees For Marijuana

To reduce overcrowding in prisons, a city could stop testing parolees for marijuana consumption.
This City Could Stop Testing Parolees For Marijuana

Four years after Philadelphia decriminalized cannabis for personal use, this city could stop testing parolees for marijuana. City Councilman Derek S. Green announced recently that he will seek hearings to explore the potential change in city policy.

In 2014 the City of Philadelphia decriminalized possession and use of less than 30 grams of cannabis. Thirty grams is about one ounce.

But if parolees subjected to a drug screening test positive for THC, the main psychoactive cannabinoid in marijuana, a judge can send them back to jail or into a drug rehab program.

Green believes that is too harsh a punishment for behavior that is no longer a criminal offense. And it’s an expensive burden for taxpayers, as well. It can cost as much as $42,000 to keep a person in jail for a year.

The councilman noted that there are more pressing priorities for the city’s precious tax dollars.

“That takes away resources we could be using to treat opioid addiction,” Green said, according to reports in local media.

Cannabis activist Chris Goldstein echoed that sentiment.

“Criminal justice is the single largest referral to drug treatment in Pennsylvania. Thirty-eight percent of those receiving treatment comes from the courts, and 25 percent of them are sent there for marijuana. In the middle of an opioid crisis, we can’t take up a quarter of treatment resources for marijuana,” he said.

Philly Has Overcrowded Jails

The change in policy would also be in line with a program to reduce Philadelphia’s prison population. For more than 15 years the municipal jail system operated under severely overcrowded conditions.

“Sending people to jail runs counter to the city’s stated goal of reducing the prison population,” Green said.

In 2016 the city embarked on a plan to cut prison rolls by 34 percent over three years. The MacArthur Foundation awarded the local government a grant of $3.5 million to help implement the plan.

When the city announced that program to reduce the jail population, Acting Prisons Commissioner Mike Resnick told reporters the new funding would allow the city to accomplish lasting criminal justice reform.

“This is sort of a once-in-a-generation opportunity to do real transformative work in the criminal justice system,” Resnick said. “We’re going to change how the system operates, and the hope is that those changes are institutionalized and they last.”

Final Hit: This City Could Stop Testing Parolees For Marijuana

Kier Bradford-Grey is the chief of legal association the Defender Association of Philadelphia. She said that some other jurisdictions have already stopped testing parolees for THC.

“New York City stopped drug testing for THC a while ago,” Bradford-Grey said. “I’m hoping we catch on to the New York way.”

And after the State of Washington legalized recreational cannabis in 2012, the Department of Corrections (DOC) stopped testing its parolees for THC in 2014.

“We’re putting some changes into effect so that we don’t routinely test offenders in the community for THC,” DOC Assistant Secretary Annmarie Alyward announced at the time.

“We don’t want [parolees] held at that level when, as a citizen, you wouldn’t be held to that level either.”

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