Philly420: Pot arrests plummeted across Pa. in 2015, led by huge decrease in Philly

York, Dauphin, Chester, Delaware, Bucks and Montgomery counties all saw more arrests than Philadelphia.

2016-01-14T094958Z_1_LYNXNPEC0D0FB_RTROPTP_3_NEW-YORK-MARIJUANA.JPG
The inside of the Columbia Care medical marijuana dispensary is seen in New York on Jan. 7, 2016.

Overall marijuana possession arrests were down 15 percent in Pennsylvania in 2015, according to the Pennsylvania Uniform Crime Reporting statistics.

The decriminalization policy in Philadelphia is likely a big reason for the statewide decline. Pot arrests by Philadelphia police went from 4,374 in 2013 to 784 in 2015. That's an 82 percent decrease.

The double-digit percent decrease in arrests is the first significant reduction in the last decade. 

Adults and juveniles arrested for less than 30 grams of marijuana between 2009 and 2014 were steadily between 20,400 and 21,000 per year.

Pennsylvania saw a new low of 17,525 arrests in 2015.

The majority of those arrests were performed by local police. Just 23 percent - or 4,172 arrests - were made by state police. 

Philadelphia used to rack up the most busts for small amounts of weed in the commonwealth. Then the city adopted a policy of issuing $25 civil citations for simple possession in October 2014. The law was championed by Mayor Jim Kenney when he was an at-large member of City Council.

Philly police can still perform an arrest if an individual is caught during a transaction or there are other mitigating circumstances. 

Pittsburgh City Council voted to adopt a similar policy in December. Mayor Bill Peduto signed it into law and the new procedure is expected to be implemented by March.

Now that the two largest urban areas of Pennsylvania have stopped using handcuffs for dime bags and joints, other sections of the state make up the bulk of pot arrests. 

York, Dauphin, Chester, Delaware, Bucks and Montgomery counties all saw more arrests than Philadelphia last year. Those counties saw between 800 and 1,400 arrests for small amounts of weed in 2015.

A report by the RAND Corporation studying legalization in Vermont estimated that each marijuana arrest costs $1,266. Bringing the cases to court costs an additional $1,000.

Using that math, Pennsylvania spent about $39.5 million last year enforcing criminal marijuana possession laws.

Maryland and Delaware recently joined the 19 states that have stopped arrests for pot possession. New York City also adopted a ticketing policy in 2014 that led to 11,000 fewer arrests last year. 

New Jersey is actually seeing numbers go up. The Garden State clocked an all-time high of 24,769 arrests in 2013, the most recent year with data available.

On several occasions, Pa Gov. Tom Wolf has said that he supports the concept of statewide decriminalization. No legislation on that topic has been introduced in Harrisburg. A bill to legalize limited forms of medical cannabis remains stalled in the House. Another bill to tax and regulate marijuana for all uses has received lukewarm reception.