Despite a vote by the Philadelphia City Council to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana, law enforcement officials say they will continue to bust people for pot possession, even if the measure becomes law. Unfortunately, the threats made by Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey do not appear to be a bluff — the city’s police force has already arrested 264 people for this offense since the measure received approval a month ago.
These hardheaded practices have Councilman Jim Kenney, who is responsible for introducing the bill, concerned that city administrators are not looking out for the best interests of those for which they serve. “It’s unconscionable,” Kenney told PhillyMag.com. “The issue for me is that we have a 26 percent poverty rate. I need to have everyone working. And for a lot of these people, it is impossible to get jobs, all over a nickel bag of cannabis or a couple of joints.”
Kenney says out of the 264 arrests, the majority — 140 people — were arrested for possession of marijuana, while the other 124 were busted for other drug war crimes, including possession of an illegal substance other than marijuana, and manufacturing with the intent to sell. None of the marijuana possession cases involved violent thugs, said Kenney, but he suspects the arrests were consistent with the racial disparity Philadelphia has grown accustomed to — stating that 83 percent of pot possession cases in 2013 involved African Americans.
“As a white male, the odds of me being arrested for marijuana possession are virtually nil,” said Kenney. “If they want to arrest people for marijuana, why don’t they walk through the parking lot of the ballpark before a game? There are plenty of white suburban people they could arrest. They could visit a frat party on a college campus and round up a bunch. But they don’t.”
Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, who opposes legislation to decriminalize marijuana, will be forced to take action in September. So far, he has not given any indication whether he plans to veto the bill or simply let it take effect. Kenney says if his bill becomes law, he hopes Commissioner Ramsey and his pot-busting police squad will learn how to apply their ambitious attitude in the streets to more serious crime.