|Grow Light Gallery|
The Chicago City Council on Wednesday voted to decriminalize possession of marijuana with an overwhelming 43-2 vote. The measure was backed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
Under the new ordinance, police officers in Chicago, the third-largest city in the United States, can issue a written violation for possession of 15 grams or less of cannabis, rather than making an arrest, reports Reuters. People who are caught with under half an ounce of marijuana will now face fines between $250 and $500, instead of being arrested.
The measure will help raise revenue for the city, according to supporters, as well as saving money on enforcement and incarceration and freeing up police to pursue more important matters. Unfortunately, officers would still have the authority to arrest people, even for small amounts of marijuana, rather than ticket them. Does anyone really believe that a few rabidly anti-pot assholes in the police department won't give the whole force a bad name?
Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy has said that the measure will free more than 20,000 hours of police time each year that is currently spent on making and processing arrests for small amounts of marijuana.
|Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel supported the cannabis decriminalization measure|
Last year, there were 18,298 arrests for possession of less than 10 grams of cannabis, according to Chicago Police Department statistics, Mayor Emanuel's office said.
Each marijuana case involves at least four cops -- two arresting and two transporting officers -- and places additional burdens on the already ridiculously overcrowded Cook County court and jail system, according to the mayor's office.
Passage of the measure means that adults in possession of small amounts of marijuana will no longer be arrested or saddled with criminal records that can make it harder to get a job, housing, and student loans. The ordinance will also allow law enforcement to focus on more serious crimes, like Chicago's soaring murder rate, while conserving limited police resources. Violent crime has become a serious concern in Chicago, with homicides up 38 percent over last year.
There are still situations where people will be arrested, including for smoking marijuana in public, on school grounds, or in public parks, if the person doesn't have ID or is under the age of 17.
"The change in enforcement policy is a smart one," said Dan Riffle, legislative analyst for the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP). "Because of the ordinance passed today, a lot of young people in Chicago will have college educations, fulfilling careers, and bright futures to look forward to instead of the job-killing scar of a criminal record. All the while, Chicago police can stay on the beat protecting communities from violent criminals and real threats to public safety."
|Ethan Nadelmann, Drug Policy Alliance: "Chicago's aldermen need to remain vigilant in ensuring that the measure they approved today actually accomplishes what they hope"|
"The Chicago City Council's vote today to allow police to issue a ticket rather than arrest someone for marijuana possession is very much a step in the right direction," said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA). "The near unanimous support for the measure as well as specific comments by aldermen demonstrated significant concern with the waste of police resources, harmful consequences of an arrest and the fact that over three-fourths of all marijuana arrests are of African Americans.
"If the measure is implemented in good faith, it should reduce the negative consequences of the state's marijuana prohibition laws in Chicago," Nadelmann said. "But the devil is very much in the details as to whether the new ordinance will ultimately do more good than harm.
"The fine of $250, and possibly more, is excessive -- and may result in undue hardship for young and poor people without the resources to pay," Nadelmann said. "Police will retain the legal authority to arrest rather than ticket people for marijuana possession, thereby allowing for the perpetuation of the racial bias in enforcing the state's marijuana laws.
|DUMBASS: City councilman Roberto Maldonado said people will interpret the law as "a license to smoke marijuana in public"|
"More people may be stopped and charged with marijuana possession offenses than before," Nadelmann warned. "And the mayor and police chief's insistence that their proposal 'is not decriminalization' is less than reassuring.
"Chicago's aldermen need to remain vigilant in ensuring that the measure they approved today actually accomplishes what they hope," Nadelmann said.
Clueless council member Roberto Maldonado wasted no time in making foolish and dramatic pronouncements about the new ordinance. He claimed people will interpret the law as "a license to smoke marijuana in public."
More than a dozen states and several large U.S. cities have already decriminalized with similar legislation. More than 90 other localities in Illinois and 15 other states have now removed criminal penalties for low-level marijuana possession.
Other cities with similar polices include Seattle, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, as well as university towns like Champaign, Ill., Madison, Wis., and Ann Arbor, Mich. Additionally, 17 states and the District of Columbia have legalized cannabis for certain medicinal uses.