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Marijuana in Philadelphia: What to know about marijuana laws

In Philadelphia, marijuana is not legal, but it has been decriminalized. What this means is that it's not necessarily a criminal offense to possess marijuana in the city, but there are still consequences if you get caught.

Marijuana was decriminalized in 2014, but, despite that, the city still collects fines. Thanks to the Small Amounts of Marijuana (SAM) program, people caught with 30 grams or less can get away with a $25 fine. It has been shown that arrests for small amounts of marijuana dropped by around 77 percent only a year after the decriminalization went into effect.

Despite the fact that the fine itself is so low, the city's SAM program requires additional payments for a court-mandated drug course. Anyone who has a violent crime on one's record, or has an illegal gun on him or her while carrying a small amount of marijuana would automatically be unable to participate in the SAM program.

What violations fall under the SAM program?

The SAM act generally covers the possession of marijuana only. Possessing with the intent to sell it or attempting to purchase marijuana would not fall under this program's purposes. The Controlled Substances Drugs, Device and Cosmetics Act makes it illegal to purchase marijuana from unlawful sources, and it's a separate crime from a possession charge. Despite decriminalization in the state, this law still applies.

Did decriminalizing marijuana help people in Pennsylvania?

Yes, and it's estimated that it reduced arrests by as many as 10,000. That saved the city millions of dollars that would have otherwise been spent on prisons, police force needs and other expenses. Despite the fact that it saves money to reduce arrests, the police still maintain the right to arrest those who are in possession of marijuana.

In 2016, the Philadelphia Police Department reportedly arrested 109 juveniles and 526 adults for possessing marijuana, even though it was under 30 grams. The reality is that the majority of those arrests involved young, black men, which is a racial issue that the city has been trying to address. Statistics show that 81 percent of the adults arrested were black, and 88 percent were men. Sixty-two percent of the people arrested were between the ages of 18 and 29 years old, showing that a bias is very likely, if not the reality.

Fortunately, 2016 did see the number of decriminalization tickets rise, which means more people were staying out of jail. Approximately 1,388 marijuana Code Violation Notices were given out in 2015, while 2,406 were doled out in 2016.

Decriminalization takes time, and bias does still exist. Anyone arrested while in possession of a small amount of marijuana needs to do everything he or she can to fight the arrest. Decriminalization should be for everyone, not a select group.

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