Philadelphia becomes largest US city to decriminalize marijuana

Reuters / Rebecca Cook
​Philadelphia has decriminalized small amounts of marijuana in the city, reducing penalties for possession and public use to minor fines and community service. The move makes Philadelphia the largest city in the United States to decriminalize pot.

Mayor Michael Nutter signed the legislation on Wednesday, making the possession of 30 grams or less a civil offense. Though the law, which will go into effect on Oct. 20, does not legalize marijuana in the city.

Those found in possession of 30 grams or less of marijuana will be cited and fined $25. Smoking pot in public can result in a citation and a $100 fine, or nine hours of community service,accordingto The Inquirer. Possessing more than 30 grams is still a criminal offense in the city, and anyone caught with marijuana who cannot show identification will still be arrested.

Nutter also announced an outreach campaign to educate citizens on the new law. The mayor also pledged support for efforts to re-examine criminal records of those convicted for possession of small amounts of pot.

City Councilman James Kenney, sponsor of the bill, hailed the legislation as a way to address, among other issues, disproportionate marijuana arrests in the African-American community, which has resulted in criminal records that reduce job opportunities, among other effects.

"The most important thing here is to keep kids on a straight line and not allow someone's life to get screwed up because of a mistake when they were young,” Kenney said, according to The Inquirer.

 Mayor Michael Nutter of Philadelphia (Jemal Countess / Getty Images / AFP)

Neither Nutter nor Kenney advocated use of marijuana.

"I'm not advocating anything in excess, except prayer,” said Kenney, who offered the legislation in May and helped finalize thebill’s passagein September.

Mayor Nutter also touted the city’s drug-abuse health programs.

"We want to make sure people know it is still against the law to possess and use marijuana in Philadelphia, and that it can have serious consequences if you are convicted," he said. "However, many Philadelphians are in fact looking for help. We want to get them that help they need."

While critical of the legislation in the past, NuttertoldCBS News recently that he changed his mind given the amount of punishment so many citizens have garnered for possession of such small amounts of pot.

Many USstates and citieshave approved various forms of marijuana decriminalization over the past several decades. Most recently, the District of Columbia’s decriminalization efforts wereheld upthis summer by Congress based on powers vested in the Home Rule Act, which gives the US House of Representatives the ability to block legislation approved by the city’s elected leaders. If ultimately passed, the legislation would give Washington, DC theleast punitivemarijuana laws outside of states that have legalized its use.

In the US, only Colorado and Washington state have passed laws legalizing the cultivation, sale, and use of recreational marijuana even though federal officials still consider pot to be a Schedule 1 narcotic. Colorado shops officially began selling it on January 1 after voters approved a ballot initiative in November 2012. Washington state began selling legal recreational marijuanain July.

The states of Alaska and Oregon, as well as the District of Columbia, will vote on legalization proposals this fall.