Last year, Philadelphia decided to decriminalize marijuana, dropping the consequences to a simple fine for possession. That decision appears to have saved the city $1 million dollars over a very short period of time.
On October 20, 2014, legislation signed by Mayor Michael Nutter officially came into effect, making marijuana a civil violation.
Nutter stated that while he does not condone marijuana because of its status as a Schedule 1 drug, the punishment must be “proportionate to the crime.”
Councilman Jim Kenney, the sponsor of the bill, justified decriminalization through an appeal to reduced burdens on local enforcement, since it redirects police away from cracking down on non-violent crimes and towards more serious problems in the community.
For possession under an ounce of marijuana, the fine ranges between $25 and $100 dollars. The other alternative is nine hours of community service.
In an op-ed for Philly.com, Chris Goldstein, co-chair of the Philadelphia chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, noted that the number of arrests has plummeted by 70 percent when looking at the period of January to March for 2013, 2014 and 2015.
A year later, Kenney seems vindicated.
Countless thousands of hours of police time have been saved. Based on a study from the RAND Corporation showing that a single custodial arrest costs the city $1,266 dollars, Philadelphia may have saved $1 million from January to March of this year, compared to 2013.
“Based on everything I have been reading, and all the data I have gotten, Philadelphia could easily be saving that much,” Leslie Bocskor, managing partner at Electrum Partners, told TheDCNF. “I am told that the cost of keeping someone in jail/prison can be between $500-$1250 a week, that is not including all the time to go through trials, public defenders (where needed), processing, arrests, etc. So, total savings per year could be in the tens of billions if cannabis prohibition were dropped federally. A city like Philadelphia could easily be saving that much already.”
In contrast to arrest costs, RAND found that it only takes $20 dollars to issue someone a ticket for marijuana possession. Although arrests for marijuana are down sharply, police appear to have redirected their attention to the harder drugs, resulting in an uptick since 2014, but down from 2013.
“It should be no surprise that research has shown decriminalization has saved the city money and freed up police time and resources,” Kris Krane, co-founder of 4Front Advisors, told The Daily Caller News Foundation.
“With cities facing budget shortfalls and many looking at the prospect of cutting back their police forces, decriminalizing marijuana at the city level is a reasonable and pragmatic way to free up valuable police resources.”
On a state-wide level, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf also supports the decriminalization of marijuana, since according to Wolf, the criminal justice system ruins families and makes it difficult for people to find employment.
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