Chicago lawmakers: It’s time to decriminalize possession of pot

CHICAGO – During an Oct. 26 press conference here several aldermen announced they plan to introduce an ordinance at next week’s City Council meeting to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana caught on people by the police.

Ald. Daniel Solis says the ordinance is aimed at freeing up police officers on the street to focus on more serious crimes. He says the plan could also save money and raises revenue for the city.

Under the proposal those in the Chicago caught with 10 grams or less of marijuana would be fined a $200 ticket and up to 10 hours of community service.

Solis believes Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel could be persuaded to support the ordinance. There is no indication by the mayor’s administration that says otherwise, says Solis.

About 23,000 arrests are made by the Chicago Police Department each year for marijuana possession, which is currently a class b misdemeanor, punishable by up to six months in jail and a $1,500 fine.

Earlier this month the Chicago Reader reported that Cook County spent at least $78 million each year arresting, prosecuting, and jailing people for possession of marijuana.

Chicago alderman and Cook County Commissioner John Fritchey say police and court personnel get tied up with dealing with the processing of arrestees.

“It is not time to act tough on crime, it is (time) to be smart on crime,” said Fritchey in a Chicago Tribune report. “We need our resources spent somewhere else.”

Fritchey noted several states have enacted measures decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana possession.

“The simple truth is that the decades-long policies that we have had toward possession of small amounts of marijuana have failed to do anything other than fill our jails with non-violent offenders, strain our budgets, and according to some studies, even cause an increase in more serious crime,” Fritchey said in a statement.

Others note the vast arrests for marijuana possession in the city are disproportionately minorities. And too many are ending up with criminal records, although the vast majority of the cases are thrown out of Cook County court, they add.

In an expose by The Reader, journalists Mick Dumke and Ben Joravsky say people of all races smoke pot in Chicago, but almost everyone busted is Black.

“The ratio of black to white arrests for marijuana possession in Chicago is 15 to 1,” they wrote.

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle has said the county jails and courts are jammed with petty marijuana offenders. She has indicated in the past that the “war on drugs” is a failure and doesn’t help reduce crime.

“Taxpayers deserve our resources to be spent more productively on long-term infrastructure projects and on alternative diversion programs for our youth population who circulate through the criminal justice system,” said Preckwinkle in a statement.

Some however argue decriminalizing marijuana normalizes drug use and could make the controversial habit lead to more dangerous drug use. And those that are only issued tickets don’t get the same treatment as those who go to court, say critics.

Possession of cannabis is already a ticketable offense in several suburbs surrounding Chicago and in areas of Cook County that are patrolled by the Cook County Sheriff’s Department.

Some 11 states have decriminalized possession of small amounts of pot and 18 states allow its use for medical purposes, according to the pro-marijuana group NORML. The group says enforcing marijuana prohibition costs U.S. taxpayers $10 billion and results in the arrests of 853,000 people a year.

Photo: AP Photo/Jeff Chiu, File


Pepe Lozano
Pepe Lozano

Pepe Lozano is a Chicago native and has been a writer with the People's World since 2005. He comes from an activist family and has lived on the city's southwest side in a predominantly Mexican American community his whole life. Lozano covers a range of daily local and national stories, mostly in the Chicago area, having to do with progressive political campaigns, workers and immigrant rights, youth and student struggles, as well as the fight for affordable health care and other social justice initiatives and grass-roots people's movements. Lozano also frequently writes about people's culture, such as sports, music, films and entertainment. He's also a big Chicago White Sox, Bulls and Bears fan.