CHICAGO – The Chicago City Council on Wednesday approved a measure that would allow police officers to ticket people found with small amounts of marijuana instead of arresting them.
Aldermen voted 43-3 in favor of the ordinance, under which anyone in possession of 15 grams of marijuana — roughly the equivalent of 15 marijuana cigarettes — faces a fine between $250 and $500.
Both Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy support the ordinance, and a marked jump in Chicago’s homicide rate may have given the proposal more steam. Homicides are up by about 50 percent so far this year compared to the same period last year.
Several aldermen said the new law will allow police to spend more time on street patrols and less on processing people for the minor offense of possessing small amounts of marijuana. Alderman Danny Solis, who sponsored the measure, estimated the city would receive $7 million a year in revenue.
States across the country are starting to relax their laws on marijuana possession. This month alone, governors in Rhode Island and New York moved toward decriminalization of small amounts of the drug. Of the 8,625 misdemeanor marijuana cases between 2006 and 2010 in Cook County, about 87 percent were dismissed, according to statistics from the Cook County Clerk of the Circuit Court.
The vote was not a surprise. Last week, while the council’s Public Safety Committee expressed concern that the ordinance would send the wrong message about drug use to young people, the aldermen on the committee voted 13-1 to approve the measure.
The ordinance was first proposed last November by Solis, who said that he did not ask his fellow aldermen to vote on it as a favor to Emanuel, who asked him to hold off until the police department could study the issue.
Emanuel and McCarthy suggested at the time that they were open to the idea of such an ordinance and earlier this month both came out in favor of it.
When he first introduced the ordinance, Solis talked extensively about how the millions of dollars the cash-strapped city could see as a result of ticketing for possession of small amounts of marijuana and giving a fine rather than having it be a misdemeanor that carries jail time.
Solis and others also expressed concern that the current law might not be enforced fairly, with Solis presenting statistics showing thousands of more arrests in predominantly black and Hispanic wards in the last decade than in affluent and predominantly white neighborhoods. Besides, they said, the arrests are a waste of time because the majority of those taken into custody see their charges dropped anyway.
But by the time Emanuel and McCarthy endorsed the ordinance, the biggest argument was tied to the city’s surging homicide rate. Allowing police officers to write tickets for small marijuana amounts would mean that they could stay on the street in the city’s most dangerous neighborhoods rather than in the station going through the time-consuming task of processing someone for a minor offense.
In a statement, McCarthy said that the arrests of more than 18,000 people for misdemeanor possession of 10 grams or less of marijuana “tied up more than 45,000 police hours” and that the “new ordinance nearly cuts that time in half … freeing up cops to address more serious crime.”
Solis agreed, saying that such an ordinance would mean the poorer neighborhoods on the city’s south and west sides would not see police officers disappear for hours at a time as they do now when they make an arrest for those found with small amounts of marijuana.
“The police officer is now going to be more in the neighborhoods that need him or her than in the district doing paperwork,” Solis said earlier this month.
via Fox News