|Ten grams of pot is not much to be decriminalized — but it’s a 10-gram improvement over what Chicago has now.|
Cannabis users in Chicago may soon be able to stop worrying about jail. Well, at least if they don’t have more than 10 grams at the time.
Several city councilmen on Thursday said they plan to introduce a city ordinance decriminalizing possession of small amounts of marijuana in order to cut enforcement costs and free up police to go after more serious crimes, reports AFP.
More than 23,000 Chicagoans are arrested every year for marijuana possession, according to the Chicago Police Department. The misdemeanor carries up to six months in jail, a $1,500 fine and a criminal record.
Under the decrim law set to be introduced next week, people caught with less than 10 grams of pot would instead face only a $200 fine and up to 10 hours of community service.
Cannabis has already been downgraded to a lesser offense in several Chicago suburbs and in one unincorporated area of Cook County patrolled by the sheriff’s department, Ford Heights, which is a suburb south of Chicago.
The Chicago suburbs of Evanston, Aurora, Skokie, Sugar Grove, Yorkville and Carpentersville all already treat pot possession as only a citable offense, i.e., decriminalized.
Eleven U.S. states have decriminalized possession of small (but varied) amounts of cannabis, and 17 states allow its use for medicinal purposes, according to the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML).
Enforcing marijuana prohibition costs U.S. taxpayers a whopping $10 billion a year, according to NORML, with 853,000 Americans being arrested for pot last year.
|Alex Garcia/Chicago Tribune|
|Cook County Commissioner John Fritchey: “It is not time to act tough on crime, it is (time) to be smart on crime”|
The proposed law makes sense, according to Cook County Commissioner John Fritchey.
“It is not time to act tough on crime, it is (time) to be smart on crime,” Fritchey said, perhaps unconsciously echoing travel guru/marijuana activist Rick Steves. “We need our resources spent somewhere else.”
Fritchey, along with Chicago aldermen Richard Mell, Walter Burnett, Danny Solis and Ariel Reboyras, asked city and county law enforcement to consider the new policy, reports Michell Eloy at WBEZ.
“We want to make it clear, we’re not approving of the smoking of pot,” Reyboras said. “What we’re asking is for the police to make the right decision when someone has 10 grams or less in their possession. Simply write them a ticket and let them go. That police officer will stay working on his beat.”
Alderman Solis said issuing the tickets could also be a new revenue source for the cash-strapped city.
“If we are collecting $200 every time somebody is caught with 10 grams or less of marijuana, that is a potential revenue that this city and this county can use,” Solis said.
Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle endorsed the aldermen’s efforts.
“The decades-long war on drugs has failed to eradicate drug use and no longer holds up as sound policy,” Preckwinkle said. “As I’ve said before, the social cost of incarceration, couple with the cost of prolonged, unnecessary court proceedings has taken a toll on our criminal justice system and on taxpayers for far too long.”