Sheriff Continues To Arrest, Rather Than Ticket, Pot Offenders


Photo: M. Spencer Green/AP
Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart: “We will act as we always have, which is arrest”

‚ÄčNearly a year after the Cook County Board passed an ordinance allowing sheriff’s police to ticket marijuana smokers for minor possession instead of arresting them, officers still haven’t written the first ticket.

“The ordinance gives us the discretion to choose,” said Steve Patterson, a spokesman for Sheriff Tom Dart. “So we’ll choose to continue acting as we always have, which is arrest.”
County commissioners made headlines last July when they passed the ordinance that gives officers the choice to either arrest people in unincorporated areas possessing 10 grams or less of marijuana, or to hand out tickets for $200 within the county’s unincorporated areas, reports William Lee of the Chicago Tribune.
The ordinance came into being after Commissioner Earleen Collins’s grandson was arrested for possessing half a joint.
The ordinance, which was supported by marijuana legalization advocates, first ran aground after a county board committee rejected Sheriff Dart’s request to extend the discretionary ticket-writing power to wherever sheriff’s officers patrol. This would have included suburban Ford Heights, which Dart’s office patrols because the town doesn’t have its own police force.

Without that change, Dart’s office said that a marijuana smoker in Ford Heights must be arrested, while another user across the street in an unincorporated area could merely get a ticket.
“The issue is that it sets up two sets of laws for our officers to enforce,” Patterson said. “That’s a problem.”
Sheriff Dart claims he was “never consulted” before the measure was passed, and has long been “skeptical of its impact.” Sounds a lot like the Sheriff got butt-hurt about the new ordinance and now refuses to enforce it.
There’s nothing stopping Dart’s officers from enforcing the new law as written, according to board members. But Sheriff Dart has vowed not to enforce the law unless the board tailors the ordinance to his liking.
“We do not plan to write tickets in one place and arrest people in another,” Patterson said. “Unless it’s uniform, we will act as we always have, which is arrest.”
Pot legalization advocates have lined up behind Cook County’s measure, although they and civil libertarians are concerned that police discretion could lead to racial profiling.
Dan Linn, executive director of the Illinois chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), had hoped the county’s ordinance would open the door for Chicago’s long-awaited proposal to ticket small-time cannabis users, but he views the discretion aspect as a fatal flaw.
“I think it was well-intentioned, but it could have been done better politically, so you don’t have these open-to-interpretation arrests,” Linn said. “I think writing a ticket instead of arrests is a much better option.”
While taking no stance on legalization, Ed Yohnka of the local American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) agreed that police discretion could disproportionately affect young men of color.
Yohnka said several studies have shown minorities are generally arrested more often and serve more jail time for marijuana, though they use it at the same levels as whites.
In New York, for example, one study showed that 87 percent of the city’s marijuana arrests were of African-Americans and Latinos.

“Every stop along the way, there are concerns about discretion and the way it is used,” Yohnka said.