Big Change In Philly Pot Policy

Good news, not just for stoners, but for Philadelphia taxpayers. And we’re already seeing real change with our new DA:

The city’s new district attorney and the state Supreme Court are 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.

Under a policy to take effect later this month, prosecutors will charge such cases as summary offenses rather than as misdemeanors. 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.

“We have to be smart on crime,” said District Attorney Seth Williams, who took office in January. “We can’t declare a war on drugs by going after the kid who’s smoking a joint on 55th Street. We have to go after the large traffickers.”

The shift is a major move in a reform agenda being hammered out in an unusual partnership between Williams and two members of the state Supreme Court, Chief Justice Ronald D. Castille and Justice Seamus P. McCaffery, each of whom has a long background in criminal justice.

The goal is to sweep about 3,000 small-time marijuana cases annually out of the main court system, freeing prosecutors and judges to devote time to more serious crimes. The diverted cases amount to about 5 percent of the caseload in criminal court.

Police have been briefed on the policy shift, but appear less than enthusiastic about it.

“We’re not going stop locking people up,” Lt. Frank Vanore, a police spokesman, said Friday. He said marijuana possession remained illegal.

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