October 28, 2011. Chicago. Last month, the Cook County Board passed an ordinance that changed the possession of small amounts of marijuana from a misdemeanor crime into an offense similar to a traffic ticket. Yesterday, County Commissioner John Fritchey was joined by four Chicago Aldermen in publicly calling on the Chicago city council to pass a similar measure.
A Chicago ordinance mirroring the county law appears to have a number of supporters, including some of Chicago’s newer political powerhouses. Already voicing their support for decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana in Chicago are Cook County President Toni Preckwinkle and Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy. Opposition to the measure is expected to come from the Chicago Machine’s old guard, many of which campaigned as recently as last year for harsher punishments for marijuana laws. One Alderman supports the forfeiture of a person’s entire estate for the possession of even small amounts of marijuana.
Leading the charge to decriminalize those small marijuana busts in Chicago is 25th Ward Alderman Danny Solis. His ordinance, which he promises to present to the city council next week, would change the punishment for possession of 10 grams or less of marijuana from a $1,500 fine and 6 months in jail to a $200 ticket and 10 hours of community service.
Solis was joined at yesterday’s press conference by 33rd Ward Alderman Richard Mell, 27th Ward Alderman Walter Burnett and 30th Ward Alderman Ariel Reboyras. Together, the proposal’s supporters have many arguments to support their measure. County officials are complaining that the Chicago Police are filling Cook County jail with marijuana offenders, something that’s not a crime in Cook County. That, they argue, is wasting Cook County taxpayers millions of dollars and taking up space that could be used for violent offenders. Others point out that the majority of marijuana offenders are minorities. They argue that law enforcement unfairly targets minorities for drug arrests.
Also arguing in favor of an overhaul of Chicago’s marijuana laws are the statistics themselves. Each year, Chicago police make about 23,000 arrests for marijuana possession. They then spend 84,000 hours doing paperwork instead of patrolling the streets. And in the end, 90 percent of the cases are eventually dropped. Total cost to taxpayers – tens of millions of wasted dollars each year.
Cook County Commissioner Fritchey summed up Chicago’s harsh treatment of marijuana offenders and the criminal stigma they must bare by quoting former President Jimmy Carter, “Penalties against possession of a drug should not be more damaging to an individual than the use of the drug itself.”
The ordinance’s expected sponsor, Alderman Solis, said he expects the proposal to be debated over the next six months. “I don’t expect it to be passed immediately” Solis said, “But at least we will get a dialogue going, to get the experts that can advise us more, to make sure that when this ordinance is passed, it really fits the bill and really helps out the city.”
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