Philadelphia is taking a new look at how to deal with drug possession.
We’ve often heard critics of the criminal justice system say that substance abuse is a mental health and medical issue, rather than a criminal one.
Now, Philly might put that theory to the test.
This week Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner said that the city was aiming to move towards decriminalizing small amounts of drugs to focus on rehabilitation instead of formal charges.
“We are talking about people who are using drugs,” Krasner said. “The vast majority of them suffering from addiction. I do not see value in convicting people like that.”
Krasner said that people found with small amounts of drugs would be referred to a treatment facility or do community service rather than going to jail. He defended his position, saying that the plan would be the most fair and beneficial approach for both the user and the rest of society.
The act would be the first of its kind in the United States, and would serve as an active study for other areas.
"Possession is different than dealing. We are talking about people who are using drugs. The vast majority of them suffering from addiction. I do not see value in convicting people like that."– Philadelphia's new district attorney. https://t.co/cUgxAnH738 pic.twitter.com/y7FUASFKP0
— Kenneth Roth (@KenRoth) May 8, 2019
Many are in support of the plan to change the way the drug users are handled, especially with the overcrowding populations in prisons around the country.
“This is not just decriminalization, this program would be pre-arrest diversion for people who are nonviolent or who have mental health or substance abuse disorders,” said Michael Barnes, who served as drug policy council under former President George W. Bush.
Barnes argues it gives law enforcement officers on the streets the ability to determine how to proceed, as they know the streets they patrol.
“What this means is cops on the street who actually know mental illness and substance abuse better than anybody else…have the discretion, based on their experience, to divert somebody to treatment. The crime remains the same….if it were somebody who has also committed some violent crime or is not in need of treatment.”
The law would not exempt people from punishment and consequences, however. It would be at the discretion of the officers involved.
“We still reserve the right to file charges and send the person to the criminal justice system,” said Barnes.
Dealers aren’t getting off the hook here. They will still face strict consequences for selling substances.
Others spoke out against it.
“Obviously we don’t want to give people records,” said a member of SAM (Smart Approaches to Marijuana). “But by the same token, having these policies make drug use seem like it’s no big deal and is sending the wrong message to our country and [younger] generation.”
“The concern on the other side…is that if we don’t have some sort of stick in place, people are going to think that drug use is no big deal…Sending a message that this is just a medical problem is not the right way to go. We have to let the public know that [drug use] should be discouraged.”
In 2014, Philadelphia changed criminalization toward marijuana laws, making personal possession of under 30 grams equivalent to a $25 ticket.