Last year, Philadelphia decided to start punishing the possession of under 30 grams of pot with a $25 ticket instead of an arrest.
And there was much rejoicing.
But also, some questions. Particularly, would curbing arrests spur a rampant epidemic of victorious pot smokers flouting the law and taking their hobby onto the streets?
Would overburdened cops be unable to keep up with the incredible demand for tickets? Would the city descend into a drug-fueled chaos, its government buildings set ablaze, its streets patrolled by roving bands of weed-crazed cannibals?
Nope. So far, so good.
...according to Tricia L. Nadolny in the Philadelphia Inquirer. Not only are marijuana arrests way down, total run-ins between marijuana users and the law have dipped significantly.
"In the year since the law took effect, arrests have fallen nearly 75 percent.
But the police aren't making up for the drop by doling out tickets. Arrests and citations combined are still 42 percent below the total arrests made by the department in the same time last year, which some say signals a waning interest from the police in penalizing use of the drug."
Yup. Arrests are down. Tickets are down. The city is still standing. And all is well.
Philadelphia appears to be another data point in a larger, growing trend of cities successfully lowering the temperature on the War on Drugs.
New York City began curbing arrests for possession of small amounts of marijuana back in November 2014. Earlier this year, Gloucester, Massachusetts, launched a groundbreaking program that funnels addicted people into treatment, rather than prison — and the results are looking promising.
...which is good news, as the United States has the largest prison population in the world...
...and drug arrests have a lot to do with that. In 2012, drug crimes were the single highest arrest category in the United States, according to the FBI. Arresting fewer nonviolent drug users equals fewer people who really don't need to be in prison locked up.
It's also potentially good news for people of color, who routinely bear the burden of law enforcement's focus on petty crime.
In a study of traffic stops by 14 different police departments across four states, a blockbuster New York Times report from October 2015 found that black motorists were 1.5 to 5.2 times more likely to be searched for contraband during traffic stops — including drugs — than white motorists and were less likely to actually have it in all but one case.
Limiting marijuana arrests won't solve the problem, but turning police focus toward legit crime could help educe the number of such stops and prevent them from escalating.
There's still a long way to go, but Philadelphia deserves a lot of credit for taking a small, positive step forward.
...and my reaction to it can best be summed up in one word: