Fortunately for Philadelphia taxpayers, Seth Williams does get it.
Williams, who replaced Abraham as district attorney in January 2010, has saved an estimated $2 million in the past year by diverting thousands of marijuana-possession cases into a new program that processes pot smokers quickly and leaves them with a clean record.
The Small Amount of Marijuana (SAM) program, which Williams implemented in June 2010, frees up prosecutors to concentrate on more serious crimes by treating arrests for marijuana possession of up to 30 grams – slightly more than an ounce – as a summary offense, rather than a misdemeanor. The misdemeanor charge carried a maximum penalty of 30 days’ probation or jail time and a $500 fine.
Few minor pot arrests resulted in jail time even under the old system, but those found guilty of possession were left with a permanent criminal record.
Now, marijuana offenders pay $200 for a three-hour class about drug abuse, and their record is expunged. No trial, no judge, no court-appointed defense attorneys, no prosecutor, no lab tests to confirm the “leafy green substance” is actually marijuana, no cops getting paid overtime to testify.
“We were spending thousands of dollars for when someone possessed $10 or $15 worth of weed,” Williams said of the way marijuana cases were prosecuted when he was elected. “It just didn’t make any sense.”