Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner, one of the country's most progressive prosecutors, told "Axios on HBO" that he is "very close" to implementing a policy that would relax the penalties for drug possession laws.
- Why it matters: This would be a first-of-its-kind policy in the U.S.
- If it leads to more cities adopting similar policies that address drug-possession offenses with treatment instead of incarceration, it could fundamentally change the nation's approach to addiction and the war on drugs.
- "Possession is different than dealing," Krasner told Axios' Stef Kight. "We are talking about people who are using drugs. The vast majority of them suffering from addiction. I do not see value in convicting people like that."
How it would work: The Philadelphia policy has not been finalized, and there is no timeline yet for rolling it out. The plan is for a diversion system, which means anyone arrested or charged for having small amounts of illicit substances would not face incarceration or a criminal record.
- Instead, they may have to attend a treatment program or potentially participate in community service, according to Krasner's office.
- As district attorney, Krasner has the power to decide when to charge someone with a crime, to determine the severity of the charges and suggest prison terms.
Philadelphia's policy would not shield offenders from federal law enforcement agents, including the Drug Enforcement Administration, said Widney Brown, managing director of policy at Drug Policy Alliance, which advocates for decriminalization in the U.S.
- And the policy could be done away with under a new district attorney.
Between the lines: Krasner said the criminalization of drug possession makes it harder for people to get educational loans, buy homes and get a job.
- In Pennsylvania, a first-time offense of possession of small amounts of heroin or cocaine can result in a year behind bars and thousands of dollars in fines.
The big picture: Marijuana legalization is being increasingly debated, and now — amid the opioid crisis — the conversation is starting to turn to new ways to handle all illegal drug possession.
See a clip.
- The full interview with Larry Krasner will be part of the new season of "Axios on HBO," premiering June 2.