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Weed decriminalized in Philly: will other cities follow its lead?

Philadelphia became the largest city in the U.S. to decriminalize weed on Monday, less than two weeks after Mayor Michael Nutter signed a new bill into law. That’s right — you can dance with Mary Jane in Philly now, and you won’t go to jail. But the penalties haven’t completely gone up in smoke.

If a person is caught carrying 30 grams or less of marijuana, they will be given a $25 citation with no jail time. If a person is caught smoking in public, they must pay a $100 fine or face 9 hours of community service. Neither offense will produce a criminal record. The bill was sponsored by Councilman James Kenney, D-PA, who has strong feelings about harsh marijuana laws.

“I always contended that if marijuana was odorless it wouldn’t be a big problem,” Kenney told Fusion. He says he has seen too many people adversely affected by the country’s harsh marijuana laws.

“I met an intelligent young woman, nice person, [who] got caught with five dollars worth of marijuana, spent 24 hours in jail, got a $200 fine, and lost her job because she lost her security clearance at her job that she needed because she had an arrest record,” Kenney said. “It’s just a crazy punishment for something so miniscule.”

Chris Goldstein, the co-chair of PhillyNORML, a grassroots organization dedicated to reforming marijuana legislation, contends that the drug has always been part of American culture.

“Marijuana doesn’t magically appear when somebody passes a law in Colorado or Pennsylvania or New Jersey,” Goldstein said.

Despite the law passing swiftly in the city of Philadelphia, it remains to be seen how it will work alongside the state’s conservative laws, not to mention the federal marijuana ban that shows no sign of changing.The bill, SB1182, to legalize medical marijuana in Pennsylvania has been stalled in the capitol since it was first introduced.

Goldstein argues that the new law is a small victory that takes Pennsylvania one step closer to pioneering states like Colorado and Washington that have recently legalized recreational weed universally.

“Colorado is a really good model, as a matter of fact. And a regulated market is certainly better than prohibition. And they’re not arresting anybody at all now,” says Goldstein. “ And they’re allowing access, across the board for adults.”

Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey contends that despite the decriminalization of the drug, it is still illegal.

“We’re not going to look the other way. If it’s associated with another crime, we’re going to arrest them. If it’s more than 30 grams we’re going to arrest them. It is not legal, period.”

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