February 8, 2016

Quick Report: 26K Marijuana arrests in PA and Philadelphia

Marcher holding a volunteer-crafted sign at PhillyNORML

11/26/12 by Chris Goldstein – Pennsylvania maintains a crime reporting database that is almost unique in the United States for the excellent level of “sunshine.”  At PhillyNORML we’ve been analyzing the marijuana arrest data for many years.  Unlike other states – we can access detailed information about the marijuana arrests in every county or even down to individual precincts in a city.

First, the hard numbers for 2011, the most recent year that full data is available.


Code 18F Drug Possession Marijuana Total Adults =   17,542

Total Juveniles =   2,995

PA 2011 Marijuana possession arrests            TOTAL = 20,537

Code 18B Drug Sale/Manufacture Marijuana Total Adults = 5,115

Total Juveniles =    480

PA 2011 Marijuana Sale/Manufacture Arrests TOTAL  = 3,475


2011 Total marijuana arrests in Pennsylvania = 26,132

There was some interesting trending by age: 18-21 year-olds were most-arrested; accounting for almost half of all adult possession arrests. Overall 18-34 year-olds accounted for more than 85% of arrests in PA demonstrating that enforcement of marijuana prohibition falls largely on the shoulders of younger residents.

Although women self-report marijuana smoking at rates somewhat less than men, gender was a major factor in the arrest data. Men comprised almost 90% of marijuana possession arrests in PA. White women were the least arrested category in all ages and regions of Pennsylvania.

Philly Cops Love Weed (arrests)

Philadelphia has the largest concentration of pot arrests each year with some notable trends that break with the rest of the state.

First the numbers:


Code 18F Drug Possession Marijuana   Total Adults =   4,226

Total Juveniles =   605

PHILLY – 2011 Marijuana possession arrests            TOTAL = 4,831

Code 18B Drug Sale/Manufacture Marijuana Total Adults = 2,177

Total Juveniles =   187

PA 2011 Marijuana Sale/Manufacture Arrests TOTAL  = 2,364

2011 Total marijuana arrests in Philadelphia = 6,895

Philadelphia created the Small Amount of Marijuana (SAM) program in 2010 so that about 85% of these arrests are now diverted out of criminal court.  Still, Philadelphia is the only county or municipality in PA that requires a mandatory custodial arrest for any amount of pot. That means police in Philly must put marijuana offenders in handcuffs for a joint – but other PA police can write a Summary Violation to avoid the physical arrest.

The ethnic/racial disparity to Philadelphia marijuana arrests is the most noticeable trend. Of the 4,226 adult possession arrests 698 were white, 393 Hispanic and 3,495 black.

All available data shows that white and black people smoke marijuana at nearly equal rates.

The next largest area in Pennsylvania, the Pittsburgh Metro Area , saw 3,059 adult marijuana possession arrests in 2011: 1,897 white and 1,148 black.

It is unclear as to why Philadelphia maintains a uniquely harsh policy for marijuana. The custodial arrest practice for even a joint may be costing the city more than $3 million per year out of the Public Safety budget.

The Pennsylvania General Assembly could take the pragmatic step of simply decriminalizing adult cannabis possession. This would get rid of the harsh and racially disparate enforcement in Philadelphia and save tens of millions of tax dollars across the Commonwealth.

Voters in Washington and Colorado authorized legalizing and regulating recreational marijuana, making the continued arrest of large numbers of East Coast cannabis consumers even more senseless.

Chris Goldstein is a respected marijuana reform advocate. As a writer and radio broadcaster he has been covering cannabis news for over a decade. Questions?  chris@freedomisgreen.com

Read more at freedomisgreen.com

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