Don't Flush That Dime Bag: DA Says It's (a) Fine

Possessing small amount of marijuana will no longer go on your criminal record

By Teresa Masterson
|  Monday, Apr 5, 2010  |  Updated 11:12 PM EDT
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A change in marijuana laws could keep smokers out of jail.

NBC Philadelphia / Claudia Rivero

A change in marijuana laws could keep smokers out of jail.

Getting caught with a dime bag of marijuana in Philadelphia will no longer go on your criminal record, now that the city’s new district attorney is downgrading the offense.

In order to free up city courts for more serious crimes, the possession of up to a little more than an ounce of marijuana will be a summary offence instead of a misdemeanor in a new policy change that goes into effect later this month.

Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams says that the change is meant to free city courts of minor cases and state Supreme Court Chief Justice Ronald Castille supports the measure.

"We have to be smart on crime," Williams told the Inquirer. "We can't declare a war on drugs by going after the kid who's smoking a joint on 55th Street. We have to go after the large traffickers."

People arrested with up to 30 grams of marijuana will only get punishments of a fine or community service.

This initiative will wipe out about 3,000 misdemeanor possession of marijuana cases per year from the courts so that prosecutors and judges have more time a resources to go after bigger fish.

While Williams has the support of the State Supreme Court, city police don’t seem too excited about the idea.

"We're not going stop locking people up," Lt. Frank Vanore, a police spokesman, told the Inquirer Friday. He said marijuana possession remained illegal.

"We're going to stop people for it. . . . Our officers are trained to do that," Vanore said. "Whether or not they make it through the charging process, that's up to the D.A. We can't control that. Until they legalize it, we're not going to stop."
 

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