Smoked out: Arrests for marijuana have stalled in Philadelphia, depending on the color of your skin

If you were to light up a joint to celebrate this 4/20, there is little police could do except tell you to put it out or give you a small fine payable in increments.

Quite frankly, policing weed simply isn’t worth it.

It’s been over a year since city District Attorney Larry Krasner announced in a memo that arrests for marijuana possession and paraphernalia would no longer be pursued in an effort to curb mass incarceration. The DA’s Office also dropped charges in numerous cases of people arrested for simple possession.

According to the Philadelphia Office of City Review, over 4,000 citations were issued in 2018 for both possession and public use of weed. The disproportionate targeting of black people in all neighborhoods in Philly continues to be a serious issue regarding weed arrests. In 2018, 63 white people were arrested for buying weed, while 358 black people were also arrested, according to Philadelphia Police Department (PPD) reports.

Originally, a decriminalization order was issued in Philadelphia in 2014, dropping charges for possession of anything less than 30 grams. The Philadelphia Police Department had decreased possession arrests by 90 percent, as reported by

The ACLU of Pennsylvania filed a lawsuit in 2010 alleging thousands of people each year are stopped, frisked and detained by the PPD, based on their race or ethnicity. A settlement was reached in 2011 in which the PPD promised to keep data on stop-and-frisks and enforce policies that keep them constitutional.

A court filing from November further proves the disproportionate numbers of black and brown people undergoing stop-and-frisks, with the largest disparity in majority white neighborhoods—emphasizing the argument that these stops are racially motivated.

Police Service Area 91 in Center City, which encompasses Chestnut St. to the north, Lombard St. to the south, the Schuylkill River to the west and Broad St. to the east, has a black and brown population of just five percent, but 60 percent of stop-and-frisks in the area in the first half of 2018 were on black and brown residents.

So how do cops know where to camp out and stop weed transactions? And how do they do so without making assumptions and going off the stereotype that it mostly happens in majority black neighborhoods?

One of the biggest stories of the year, as it pertains to pot in Philly, circulated around Richard Tamaccio, Jr.—more famously known as N.A. Poe—is a marijuana advocate from South Philly who recently opened Poe’s Sandwich Shop, advertised as a high end munchies spot in the heart of Fishtown. Poe was also the host of Philly Smoke Session, a public party advertised on his Instagram that was a haven for all pot smokers.

Police raided Tamaccio’s party in 2017 at a warehouse in Frankford. They also raided his home and found pot plants. He was charged with possession, as well as intent and conspiracy to distribute marijuana. Additionally, he received a felony charge of “causing a catastrophe.”

The charges against Tamaccio were daunting but eventually amounted to probation and 100 hours of community service when he was sentenced last April.

The sentencing came just two months after Krasner’s memo on the halt of possession arrests was released. Perhaps this can be seen as a fair sentence, considering the odds that were stacked against Tamaccio, but many feel the PPD used him to make an example out of what they believed was a bad call by Krasner.

Since Krasner’s memo, smokers may be able to get away with the few grams that they have, but not everyone is safe from the unfair assumptions placed on them. As it pertains to the state of marijuana in Philadelphia, it appears it’s pretty difficult to be arrested, sent to court and sentenced for having weed—as long as you live in a “decent” neighborhood and aren’t a person of color.

Essentially, it’s the same old, same old.


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