HOME / News / Philadelphia Saved $4.4 Million with Marijuana Decrim

Philadelphia Saved $4.4 Million with Marijuana Decrim


Police departments in Philadelphia issued 1,359 code violations for marijuana possession and public smoking during 2015.

The data comes from the city’s Office of Administrative Review (OAR). Fines are $25 for possession of less than 30 grams of cannabis and $100 for publicly toking. The citations also do not generate any permanent criminal record.

The OAR data also shows that less than half were paid so far. Of the $40,590 dues in fines, $12,885 had been paid when the report was issued in March.

Some of that may have been due to computer issues. Mike Whiter, the US Marine Corps veteran and marijuana advocate, got the first fine in October 2014. But it was months before his citation actually appeared in the city’s online system for him to make his payment.

Last year was the first full 12 months of marijuana decriminalization. Arrests are down more than 80%. It is up to the discretion of the officer during the encounter whether to pull out the ticket pad or the handcuffs. It’s not just PPD that have the option but SEPTA Transit Police and other city agencies as well.

There were still some arrests, 633 adults and 151 juveniles. As Philly.com previously reported, a striking racial disparity remains among those arrested for weed. Last year 518 of the adults and 112 of the juveniles hauled into holding cell for marijuana were African American.

Race, gender and age breakdowns were not available for the code violations.

The ACLU PA recently released a report showing that Philadelphia has not yet curtailed rampant stop-and-frisks. It is currently unknown how many of the marijuana tickets resulted from a stop-and-frisk encounter with law enforcement.

The month with the most code violations for marijuana in Philadelphia was July 2015, with 116 possession tickets and 31 for public smoking. The month with the least was January 2016 with 58 for possession and just 3 for public puffs.

Back in 2013, before decrim was enacted, Philadelphia PD arrested 4,317 for marijuana possession; 3,754 adults and 563 juveniles. At that time every single person caught with even a roach was made to endure handcuffs and a holding cell.

A study conducted by the RAND Corporation or the State of Vermont – where possession was decriminalized statewide in 2013 – estimated that making an arrest for weed costs taxpayers $1,266 every time but that writing a ticket cost just $20.

By that measure, Philadelphia saved about $4.4 million last year utilizing the new procedure. So the unpaid code violations are a drop in the bucket compared the the money the city made by taking a new approach to marijuana.

Pittsburgh is in the midst of implementing their decrim ordinance with the same fine structure as Philadelphia.

The Harrisburg City Council held their second public hearing into a similar shift on March 24.

Data from the Pa Uniform Crime Reporting System shows Harrisburg City Police arrested 277 adults and 18 juveniles for marijuana possession. Of the adults 197 were black and of the youth 12 were black. Pennsylvania’s capitol city could save almost $300,000 per year with tickets instead.

City officials in Lancaster and Wilkes Barre have also expressed strong interest in adopting local decrim policies.

More Decrim News:

• Last week both New Orleans, LA and Tampa, FL passed marijuana decriminalization.

• Delaware’s statewide decrim went into effect last December.

• The Baltimore Sun recently reported that, since Maryland decriminalized weed in 2014, arrests in Baltimore for less than 10 grams of cannabis declined from more than 3,300 per year to just 6 in 2015.