It was hardly a lovefest, but Mayor Nutter and City Councilman James Kenney made public peace Wednesday over the fractious run-up to their compromise this week on decriminalizing possession of small amounts of pot.
"I want to apologize," Kenney said at a news conference with the mayor, whom he had unmercifully hectored during the summer for his delay in signing the councilman's marijuana bill. "I sometimes get a little impatient when I feel strongly about something. I can get a little angry, a little red in the face."
Nutter was gracious in return, heaping praise on Kenney for the work he did to bring the bill to fruition.
"He is a smart, hardworking, tenacious, focused guy," Nutter said of Kenney, who stood beside him. "We are always going to be respectful of each other and each other's work."
In this instance, the work was a bill that will decriminalize possession of less than 30 grams of marijuana and the public use of the drug.
The bill, to be reintroduced in City Council on Thursday and expected to become law by Oct. 20, is an amended version of legislation passed by Council in June on a 13-3 vote. The original bill created a civil offense for possessing less than 30 grams of marijuana. Violators faced a $25 fine, but no arrest or criminal record.
Nutter declined to sign the bill without further study, calling the legislation "simplistic." He objected to it for a variety of reasons, including concerns it undercut police officers' ability to control public use of the illegal drug.
The compromise includes a separate civil offense for public use, with a penalty of a $100 fine or up to nine hours' community service.
"This bill will not legalize marijuana," Nutter said. "Rather, it will decriminalize marijuana - which means that offenses involving small amounts of marijuana will result in a civil penalty, not an arrest or criminal records."
Nutter acknowledged that possession of small amounts of marijuana is still a criminal offense under state law, which has precedence over any local initiative. He said, however, that state law allows police officers to use discretion in whether to make an arrest in such situations.
The Police Department, he said, will issue a directive to its officers explaining the procedure for issuing civil citations in cases covered by Kenney's bill.
Officers still have the discretion to use the full weight of the state law in instances were other crimes are involved or a suspect is failing to cooperate with police, Nutter said.
State law calls for up to a $500 fine and 30 days in jail as well as a criminal record.
"I am very pleased we have reached this commonsense agreement that will improve opportunity for countless Philadelphians," Kenney said. "Under this new policy, police will be able to remain focused on more serious offenses, and many young people will be spared the life-altering consequences of a criminal record."
To date, 21 states and the District of Columbia have enacted measures legalizing some form of marijuana use, according to Governing magazine, which tracks laws.
Colorado and Washington state have legalized recreational use, while the others allow pot for medical reasons. New Jersey permits medical marijuana use. Pennsylvania is one of several state legislatures with measures pending that would legalize medical marijuana.