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Philadelphia becomes largest U.S. city to decriminalize marijuana

"These are commonsense changes that will have a positive impact on many Philadelphians," says Mayor Nutter.

By
Matt Bradwell
Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter arrives at the TIME 100 Gala. UPI/Monika Graff
Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter arrives at the TIME 100 Gala. UPI/Monika Graff | License Photo

PHILADELPHIA, Oct. 2 (UPI) -- Possession of small amounts of marijuana in Philadelphia will now lead to little more than a small fine or less than ten hours of enforced community service, as Mayor Michael Nutter signed into law a bill decriminalizing the commonly used substance.

"In this particular instance, punishment needs to be proportionate to the crime," Nutter said Wednesday.

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"It is our hope that by decriminalizing marijuana in the City of Philadelphia, we can begin to eliminate this great penalty to many who are otherwise law-abiding citizens trying to lead good, healthy lives ... These are commonsense changes that will have a positive impact on many Philadelphians."

Despite the optimistic tone, decriminalization is not the same the same thing as legalization. Offenders caught with up to 30 grams of marijuana will face a citation and $25 fine, and police will confiscate their cannabis. Those caught in public will be fined $100 or sentenced to nine hours of community service.

Possession of over 30 grams places the offender into the same legal threshold as before the bill was signed, as does driving under the influence and distribution of marijuana.

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Although those seemingly arbitrarily harsh penalties remain in place for the time being, Jay Lassiter of anti-prohibition group PhillyNORML described the proactive legislation as a "refreshing" change from the national culture of political gridlock.

"Today we see Council getting stuff done, and I think people find that refreshing."

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