Political Change of Heart Restores Faith of Pro-Pot Philly

You may regard the smell of marijuana as a precious incense-like addition to your dorm hallway. Or you might find a quiet pride in turning your nose up at the bathroom towels placed thoughtfully under your hallmates’ doors. You may not give a damn one way or the other. But the recent controversies over marijuana legalization have forced many of us take a stance on where the government should stand on recreational habits. This controversy made its way to Philadelphia over the summer where city council members have been pushing for the decriminalization of marijuana. Not to be mistaken with full legalization, the decriminalization would result in a $25 fine for possession and a $100 fine or community service time for public consumption rather than an arrest and a record for a small amount of marijuana.

 

While the spirits of aspiring outdoor tokers may have taken been temporarily shattered when Mayor Nutter dismissed the bill in early August, for some, the personal became political following his decision. One organization, Institute for Development of African-American Youth (IDAAY), in particular was vocal about their support of the bill. Alongside pressure from political colleagues such as Councilman Jim Kenney, IDAAY was also instrumental in persuading Nutter to sign the bill into law. Not only did IDAAY create a petition that garnered over 7,000 signatures, but they orchestrated a rally on September 10th to protest his decision.

While some may perceive the advocacy for marijuana decriminalization as indicative of questionable political priorities, there is a lesser known battle behind decriminalization, particularly in large cities, such as Philadelphia. This battle is what had Executive Director of IDAAY, Archye Leacock (pictured left above) and city councilmen such as Kenney, advocating for the bill. The ACLU reports blacks are nearly four times more likely to be arrested for marijuana than any other race. These findings aren’t too shocking considering that of the more than 4,500 marijuana arrests in Philadelphia last year, 83 percent of those arrested were black. Controversial stop-and-frisk laws have facilitated such arrests. But Nutter dismissed arguments of this sort as “bogus” which didn’t surprise Junior English major, Pierce Jordan. “Stop-and-frisk was a policy he spearheaded. I don’t think it’s a bogus claim. Cops would still find other reasons to stop and frisk young black men,” said Jordan. Nutter shared his disappointment in city council for making use of their time to advocate for a bill that he believed would only serve to allow a kid to take a few hits outside of a grandmother’s home. After facing scrutiny for his dismissal of the bill and the racial bias behind marijuana arrests, Nutter had a change of political heart on September 8th, in what some believe was a preventative move to salvage his reputation.

As his decision was made just two days before the rally was held, it became a celebratory gathering in which the mayor paid a visit. Leacock organized the rally because he’s witnessed the effects of marijuana arrests. “We have a couple of young people in our program right now, 18 and 19 years old. Because they have been arrested for one to two bags of marijuana, for the rest of their lives they will have a criminal record, can’t get a job, can’t get a student loan, can’t get an apartment. I think it’s way too punitive…If we really feel marijuana is the problem, we should have more mental health treatment rather than the criminal justice treatment,” said Leacock. Linda Richardson, of Uptown Entertainment and Development Corporation (UEDC) also came out to support the rally. UEDC is a community organization that mentors youth, primarily from North Philadelphia neighborhoods. Richardson and other members of UEDC were ardent supporters of the bill, which will go into effect on October 20, 2014. “The bill makes sure young people that have a bad day don’t have a bad life,” said Richardson. Regardless of the motive for his decision, the outcome is what Philadelphians are celebrating. Leacock, who rarely drinks, even planned to allow himself a glass of wine that night.