Is Philadelphia’s Decision to Decriminalize Marijuana Really Allowing for More Focus on Controlling More Dangerous Illegal Substances?

Philadelphia, like other major cities in the United States today, is paving the way for marijuana legalization as a way to allow law enforcement officials to crack down on harder, more problematic drug use. Pennsylvania saw a 20.1% increase in overdose deaths from 2014 to 2015, according to data made available through the CDC, and the American Society of Addiction Medicine stated that overdose deaths are now the leading cause of accidental death in the United States. Many officials had hoped that downgrading marijuana possession charges to a citation would offer more time and resources to be allocated to controlling more serious drug related problems, but not much progress has been made.

Philadelphia County’s marijuana and opiate/cocaine arrests over the course of three years:

Information Retrieved from http://www.paucrs.pa.gov/ and includes both juvenile and adult arrests.

Although arrests for opiates spiked immediately following the decriminalization of marijuana, police actually arrested slightly less people in 2016 for opiate possession than they did in 2014 before decriminalization had gone into affect.

The county that has the closest population to Philadelphia county is Allegheny county. This county includes Pittsburgh, another major city that has recently seen marijuana decriminalization.

Allegheny County’s marijuana and opiate/cocaine arrests over the course of three years:

Information Retrieved from http://www.paucrs.pa.gov/ and includes both juvenile and adult arrests.

Decriminalization in Pittsburgh passed at the end of 2015, meaning that 2016 would be the first year one could see the effects of decriminalization on opiate use. Allegheny county is still arresting a significantly higher number of marijuana users than opiate/cocaine users, despite decriminalization for Pittsburgh.

Governor Tom Wolf’s budget for the state of Pennsylvania this year paid special attention to allocating funds to minimize the number of deaths associated with hard drug use, according to his website.

In the 2014–2015 year, 30.6% of people who sought treatment for drug abuse were court ordered to do so. According to the Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs, the vast majority of people admitted to court ordered treatment programs for drug use in the 2014–2015 year were seeking help for heroin and other opiates. There are still a considerable number of court ordered treatment for marijuana and alcohol offenders.

Information available at:
http://www.paucrs.pa.gov/ 
http://www.asam.org/
https://www.drugabuse.gov/
https://www.governor.pa.gov/
http://www.phila.gov/openbudget/
http://www.ddap.pa.gov/