District Attorney

Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner Teases Decriminalizing Drug Possession

Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner teased what could be his next big policy reform: decriminalizing drug use.

Speaking with Axios, Krasner said his office "is very close" to nixing charges for simple drug possession in favor of connecting drug users to treatment and other services. 

"One of the things we're looking at is essentially diverting all possession of drugs cases," he said during the interview, which will air on HBO later this month.

"We are talking about people using drugs, the vast majority of them suffering from addiction," he added. "I do not see value in convicting people like that thereby making it harder for them to find a job."

Krasner was careful to point out that was specifically referring people charged with possession, not with intent to sell. That remains a felony.

Despite his tease on national television, a spokesperson for Krasner said district attorney's office is not able to share additional details. Instead, they offered this response:

“The DA believes that diversion is most often the best approach for dealing with simple drug possession, ideally to make sure that drug users get treatment for addiction as opposed to incarceration. We are considering ways to increase the use of these programs. But at this point, like the DA said, the idea is still under discussion. We expect to have more to announce soon, but at this time there is no written policy or timeline for implementation. It is still under development.”

A spokesman for Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney said the city has not received a formal reform proposal. 

"What we need – and currently lack -- is a clear understanding of the full policy, and a discussion of its possible repercussions," Kenney's spokesperson Mike Dunn, said.

In 2017, the Philadelphia Police Department launched a diversion program that connects people arrested for drug use with a social services provider. Engagement with that provider is the program's only requirement, Dunn said. Since it's roll out, the police department has reported a 5% re-arrest rate.

"This process would precede any diversion determination made by the DA," Dunn said. "It is an example of a thoughtful, effective reform initiated by the stakeholders working in partnership, rather than making unilateral pronouncements to a national TV audience."

Indeed Krasner has repeatedly made headlines, both national and local, since taking office last year. His reforms include reducing reliance on both cash bail and supervision, such as parole and probation. 

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