Philadelphia enacted legislation on Wednesday that decriminalizes marijuana — requiring police to ticket people who possess small amounts of the drug instead of arresting them.
The new law, which takes effect on Oct. 20, makes Philadelphia the largest U.S. city to decriminalize the DEA-categorized Schedule 1 drug amid a growing number of U.S. cities and states that have reduced or eliminated penalties for recreational users.
The statute calls for a $25 fine for anyone caught with less than an ounce of pot. However, public consumption will result in a $100 fine or up to nine hours of community service. The drug will also be confiscated.
Councilman Jim Kenney, who sponsored the bill, compared the fine to a parking ticket. Violations won't become part of a person's criminal record. Under state and federal law, though, possession remains a criminal offense.
Kenney had argued that arrests for pot possession unfairly targeted blacks. Of the 4,614 arrests Philadelphia police made for small amounts of marijuana in 2013, 83 percent targeted African-Americans, according to local media, even though studies show the number of black and white Americans who consume pot is roughly the same.
A survey conducted by Connecticut’s Quinnipiac University in March found that 85 percent of Pennsylvanians favored the legislation.
Fifteen states and 35 cities across the country have passed decriminalization laws, with Washington, D.C., in March approving a measure similar to Philadelphia's, also imposing a $25 fine for possession.
Al Jazeera and wire services