VICE MAGAZINE: Though marijuana advocates and civil rights advocates consider Philadelphia’s decriminalization ordinance a victory, concerns still remain, including a fear that the city’s police force won’t embrace the measure. Philly cops still use the controversial “stop and frisk” tactic, which ostensibly strives to reduce crime by eliminating vandalism and other petty crimes that proponents say are correlated with more violent and destructive acts.
“In particular, we have seen striking racial disparity in arrests for small amounts of marijuana,” Messing said. “We’re hoping new legislation reduces or eliminates that disparity.” Black and Latino suspects account for 83 percent of the 4,000 weed possession arrests every year in Philly, city council member James Kenney told the New York Times. Nationally, the racial disparities are a well documented concern that, according to an ACLU report, may have influenced President Obama and other policy makers to shift their stance on prohibition.
Marijuana enforcement laws are unquestionably a civil rights issue, according to attorney Harry Levine. “A classic civil rights issue is equal treatment under the law,” Levine told VICE News. “If you have enforcement against some people but not other people; then you have a civil rights question.” But despite the overwhelming evidence in the wake of the ACLU’s report, opponents of Philadelphia’s decriminalization law remained unconvinced. Historically, cops and their lobbying groups have opposed most attempts to decriminalize weed or make medical and recreational pot legal, according to Levine. In California, the first state to legalize medical marijuana, the state’s Police Chiefs Association has long been an opponent of plans to enact a statewide regulatory framework for the drug.
To get the cops on board with Philly’s decriminalization, Kenney and his allies partnered with Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) — an organization of current and former law enforcement officials that aims to raise awareness about drug policy failures. After Philadelphia’s cops heard firsthand from a 30-year narcotics veteran from Maryland, it became clear that the sky wouldn’t fall if weed possession became the equivalent of a jaywalking citation, Goy said. MORE