City Council Passed Pot Decrim, Again. Will Ramsey Still Enforce State Law?

Commissioner Charles Ramsey (center right) at the Heroes Thrill Show preview on Market Street. Photo: Kenneth Lipp

Commissioner Charles Ramsey (center right) at the Heroes Thrill Show preview on Market Street. Photo: Kenneth Lipp

 By Kenneth Lipp

Mayor Nutter and police officials have reached an agreement regarding Councilman’s Jim Kenney’s bill to make possession of marijuana of less than 30 grams in the City of Philadelphia a ticketable offense, rather than resulting in a mandatory arrest and criminal record. The agreement includes amendments to the original ordinance, which passed City Council with an apparent veto-proof majority last June, including $100 fine in addition to the $25 for possession if caught smoking in public. The bill also changes the processing of the violation from the Parking Authority to the Municipal Court.

Yesterday, Bill 140377-A (City of Philadelphia website) passed City Council 14-2 (The original version passed 14-3, Councilman David Oh, a Republican opponent of the bill, was granted a leave of absence). Nutter has stated his intention to sign the new version, and it has been reported that the police department has accepted the compromise.  Yet when Kenney’s bill first passed with overwhelming Council support “only”, Commissioner Charles Ramsey insisted that he would instruct his officers to continue to enforce the overriding mandate of Pennsylvania criminal Code.

“We still have to treat it as a misdemeanor until we are told otherwise by state law… State law trumps city ordinances,” Ramsey told the Philadelphia Inquirer last June after the original passage.

I support marijuana legalization, and the Declaration has published in the past on the sense of Kenney’s bill. I don’t want to discourage Ramsey’s use of his discretion, as done by police executives in neighboring jurisdictions, but it is telling when a public official’s righteous invocation of the Law is absent in the discussion when the appropriate parties have been consulted and concessions have been made.

Ramsey’s office could not be reached for comment on whether the Commissioner will defy the latest entente and enforce a policy of mandatory arrest for minor possession as dictated by the Higher Commonwealth. We hope he doesn’t, but I’d really like to hear him explain why or why not.

About Kenneth Lipp

Kenneth is a writer and researcher. He’s from Alabama, and will not apologize for it. He moved to Pennsylvania in 2012, but has been in love with Philadelphia since a late-night stroll down Ben Franklin Parkway to the Art Museum in July of 2011 with the love of his life. He is interested in telling Philadelphia’s dynamic and absolutely unique stories with the zeal of a constantly enamored newcomer. Kenneth is also passionate about government transparency and protection of whistleblowers, most notably PFC Chelsea Manning. His research and reporting on law enforcement and surveillance have been featured in various publications, including Rolling Stone (Meet the Private Companies Helping Cops Spy on Protesters) and Popular Science (Boston Tested Crowd-Watching Software That Catalogues People's Skin Color). His training is in both genetics and history and he likes the joke about being a helicase and unzipping your “genes.” He’s driven to know, and thinks you can handle, the truth. Follow him on Twitter @kennethlipp.

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