City marijuana law creates legal limbo

With universities receiving federal funding, marijuana enforcement remains ambiguous.

Philadelphia’s new rules regarding marijuana possession take effect Oct. 20. Last month, City Council voted to downgrade possession of 30 grams  of the drug or less to a summary offense, which essentially acts like a traffic violation.

On Sept. 18, the day the council passed the final version of the legislation, the Executive Committee of Temple’s  Board of Trustees met. One order of business was to update the existing drug and alcohol policy, which needed additional language on health risks and criminal penalties added to the employee manual. The update brought the university into compliance with the Safe and Drug-Free School and Communities Act.

But before it passed, one trustee asked if the language would need to be amended due to the city’s new stance. After a friendly back-and-forth between the committee members, Chairman Patrick O’Connor pointed out the city had not actually legalized anything, they just changed the penalty. The Committee approved the update unanimously.

Colleges receiving federal funding are treading lightly due to conflicts between local and federal law. Temple officials would not comment directly, but issued a statement through a spokesman.

Temple’s statement pointed out the student policy, which mirrors the employee policy, has not changed.

“Temple University students will have the same level of responsibility for their behavior under the Student Conduct Code, including the existing minimum mandatory sanctions if students are found responsible for alcohol and drug violations,” the spokesman said.

By the new Philadelphia law, the offender would pay a $25 fine. Someone caught smoking marijuana in a public space would pay a $100 fine and be subject to community service. The offender must possess state-issued identification when they are cited. If not, they can be arrested.

“City of Philadelphia legislation to reduce penalties for some marijuana-related offenses is a complicated issue involving differences in local, state and federal laws,” the spokesman said. “Temple Police is seeking guidance from and intends to follow the lead of the Philadelphia Police Department in training and protocol to enforce the new law as best as possible.”

The Philadelphia Police department plans to adjust its enforcement policy when the law takes effect.

The University of Pennsylvania recently made it clear it will still enforce a marijuana ban on their campus for students, regardless of changes to local laws. Its administration cited federal funding issues.

City Councilman James Kenney, who sponsored the decriminalization legislation, said the old law disproportionately affected African Americans and younger people. This was often the case in areas surrounding Temple and Penn.

The 22nd district, which includes Main Campus, had 108 arrests for marijuana possession during the Fall 2013 semester. Around Penn, the 18th district recorded 70 arrests. Each district covers between roughly 44,000 to 48,0000 thousand people under the age of 44, according to data from the US Census Bureau.

The majority of people arrested were black males with the median age being 25. Eleven of the arrests in the 22nd district were females, all black. Six of the arrested males were not identified as black.

“Technically [university police] have the authority to arrest people,” Kenney said. “But on the Philadelphia end, we won’t follow through if they bring someone to us [for this issue].”

He said this will free up law enforcement officers for other duties.

A spokesman for the Philadelphia Police disagreed with Kenney on the time saving.

“When an officer cites someone for possession of marijuana they need to process that substance right away,” said Officer Christine O’Brien of the Philadelphia Police’s Public Affairs office. “They can’t keep it in their pocket until the end of their shift. So it will still take the same amount of time.”

Councilman Kenney has advice for students who find themselves dealing with an officer, city or campus, when the new regulations go into effect.

“The key for students is to have your ID and show it when requested,” Kenney said. “[The police] have a right to take you in for identification.”

Beyond that, demeanor may go a long way.

“Be polite in your interaction with the officer,” Kenney said. “This goes for anything, but they have a job to do.”

Ultimately though, it may be more about not tempting fate.

“Keep it in your dorm room or apartment,” Kenney said. “Nobody bothers you indoors.”

Bob Stewart can be reached at

1 Comment

  1. One thing I can say about this is I hope justice will be served. I’m all in on the legalization of marijuana but it should be achieved through proper (and legal) methods.

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