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Philadelphia Saves Millions By Ceasing Criminal Marijuana Prosecutions


liberty bellThe city of Philadelphia saved an estimated $2 millionlast year by ceasing criminal prosecutions for minor marijuana offenses, according to comments made last week by District Attorney Seth Williams to the Philadelphia Daily News.

In April 2010, Williams publicly announced a citywide policy change whereby law enforcement officials would issue a summons rather than arrest and criminally prosecute minor marijuana offenders. Philadelphia NORML had actively lobbied for the policy change after finding that the city punished minor marijuana violations more severely than many neighboring counties. A February 2010 Philly NORML report also found significant racial disparities in the city’s marijuana prosecutions — noting that African American males comprised an estimated 83 percent of all persons in Philadelphia arrested for minor marijuana possession offenses.

The new enforcement policy took effect in June 2010.

Pennsylvania MarijuanaApproximately 4,160 defendants were diverted under the program, called the SAM (Small Amount of Marijuana) program, during its first year, the Philadelphia Daily News reported. Defendants in the program pay a $200 fine and must attend a three-hour drug awareness class. Those who complete the class and pay the fine do not have to appear in criminal court and will not have a criminal record.

Previously, minor (under 30 grams) marijuana possession offenders in Philadelphia were criminally prosecuted with a misdemeanor offense punishable by up to 30 days probation or jail time, a $500 fine, and a criminal record.

“There’s no reason to waste tax dollars on harsh prohibition enforcement,” said Chris Goldstein, media coordinator for Philly NORML and publisher of FreedomIsGreen.com. “Removing the criminal penalties for marijuana possession helps to pay for firefighters, ambulances, and other necessary services. It’s that simple.”

For more information, please contact Allen St. Pierre, NORML Executive Director, at (202) 483-5500, or Chris Goldstein, Philly NORML Media Coordinator at: media@phillynorml.org.


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  1. Good job, PA.

    Legalizing cannabis is exactly what America needs to help us through the recession. We have had a multi-billion dollar industry in our backpocket this whole time.

  2. finally someone with backbone–the heck with medicinal, just legalize it and quit playing around. it’s an issue that has alot to do with the wisdom of how to cut corners in a practical manner. as it stands, most government agencies are wasting millions of dollars to try(unsuccessfully) to eradicate a plant (as opposed to a drug). our tax dollars can be used in other areas as funds for police, the courts and the jails can be used for more important things than arresting and jailing people for smoking pot. kudos to you philly,and all those others who helped to bring this awesome change about.

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