Chicago aldermen are wading into the controversy over drug enforcement with a proposal to decriminalize possessing small amounts of marijuana in the city.
Supporters say the ordinance — which Alderman Daniel Solis plans to introduce at next week’s City Council meeting — will raise revenue for the city and free up police to chase more serious criminals.
If the plan passes, people caught in Chicago with 10 grams or less of marijuana would get a $200 ticket and up to 10 hours of community service, instead of facing a misdemeanor charge punishable by up to 6 months in jail and a $1,500 fine.
Chicago police get tied up making about 23,000 arrests each year for marijuana possession, said Cook County Commissioner John Fritchey, a Democrat, who appeared Thursday at a news conference with Solis and other aldermen.
“It is not time to act tough on crime, it is (time) to be smart on crime. We need our resources spent somewhere else,” Fritchey said.
Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy has mentioned the possibility of issuing tickets for marijuana possession as a way to keep his officers on the streets.
During a City Council budget hearing Thursday, McCarthy said he was “OK with making it a very simple summary arrest with a ticket, something along those lines.”
Alderman Walter Burnett said people arrested for marijuana possession are disproportionately minorities, who now end up with arrests on their criminal records even though the vast majority of the cases are eventually dismissed.
“I had the opportunity to go to Lollapalooza, Pitchfork, and I think I got contact high being at all those events,” Burnett said. “Police there, everything. It wasn’t predominantly African American, and guess what? No one got arrested at those events. If that was an African-American event, the jails would probably be filled up. I think it’s almost a discrimination issue.”
Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle has complained the Cook County Jail and courts are jammed with petty marijuana offenders. She released a statement Thursday saying “taxpayers deserve our resources to be spent more productively _ on long-term infrastructure projects and on alternative diversion programs for our youth population who circulate through the criminal justice system.”
Authorities already can write tickets for marijuana possession in several suburbs and in areas of Cook County patrolled by the sheriff’s department, Fritchey said.
But Amy Ronshausen, manager of congressional and legislative affairs for the non-profit Drug Free America Foundation, said decriminalization efforts often have unintended effects, like normalizing drug use. “Once you start treating it like a traffic or speeding ticket, we’ve seen drug use start to go up,” Ronshausen said. She also expressed concern that people issued tickets don’t have the same chances to get drug treatment as those who go to court.
Solis expects his ordinance to go through months of hearings and likely changes, but said he expects it will become law.
– Article originally from The Boston Herald.