Philadelphia DA Halts Minor Marijuana Prosecutions

District Attorney Larry Krasner has already rejected nearly 300 minor marijuana possession cases presented by local police.

The Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office has directed its prosecutors to no longer pursue minor marijuana cases.

Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner has already declined nearly 300 cases related to buying small amounts of marijuana for personal consumption since January. Now a new internal memo obtained last week by Philadelphia’s local NBC News Affiliate NBC10 reveals that the DA has decided to continue that policy and has defined small quantities of marijuana as anything under 30 grams. Cases involving the intent to distribute will still be prosecuted.

The District Attorneys from New York City and Brooklyn also recently announced similar policy changes after a study revealed that ending the prosecution of minor cannabis offenses would have no adverse public health or safety effects. New Jersey has also suspended marijuana prosecutions.

Krasner, sworn into office in January after winning the November election in a landslide, campaigned on the promise of reforming the criminal justice system and working to end mass incarceration.

“This was seen as something that was a critical component of… focusing on serious cases that pose a threat to public safety,” Philadelphia DA spokesperson Ben Waxman told NBC10. “The hope is that people will not needlessly have interactions with the criminal justice system.”

The city of Philadelphia decriminalized marijuana in 2014 under Mayor Michael Nutter and former DA Seth Williams. Arrests dropped by 88 percent in the year following decriminalization, however a 2017 ACLU report showed that black adults were still being arrested at a rate three times higher than white adults.

Krasner is a lifelong civil rights attorney that publicly committed to a radical overhaul of his state’s criminal justice program. In his first week on the job, he fired 31 prosecutors from the DA’s office because they weren’t committed to the changes he intended to make. His new policy expands the initial efforts by Nutter and Williams to reduce penalties for minor marijuana infractions.

“We’re getting to the six month mark of the [Krasner] administration and we’ve made some public promises of how we’re going to handle certain cases,” Waxman said.

Philadelphia’s current mayor, Jim Kenney, last year said he was in favor of legalizing adult use marijuana statewide, arguing that it would allow law enforcement resources to be put to better use. Nearly six in 10 Pennsylvania voters agree with him.

marijuana law philadelphia

Does Legalization Make the Most Sense?

State and local leaders are already considering whether total adult use marijuana legalization makes the most sense both financially and socially.

Pennsylvania’s medical marijuana program, just months after launching, has already gotten off to a strong start. Only two weeks after dispensaries opened their doors, they were running out of cannabis product, and industry analysts believe Pennsylvania’s medical marijuana market will eventually become one of the largest in the nation.

While picking up steam, the program is hindered by a relatively strict list of qualifying conditions and high prices on products. Full legalization would significantly expand the state’s cannabis market and help reduce costs for consumers and patients.

Last month, state Auditor General Eugene DePasquale said that legalizing marijuana for recreational use could provide Pennsylvania with $581 million in tax revenue a year.

Gov. Tom Wolf, while supporting decriminalization “to keep low-level marijuana users out of the criminal justice system,” has not yet backed full legalization for recreational use.

How to Learn More

You can keep up with marijuana policy reform efforts nationwide by regularly visiting our news page. Learn more about cannabis laws throughout the U.S. as they stand today through our education page.