Pot-ticketing plan clears committee

June 21, 2012

Lauren Chooljian

(AP/File)

A City Council committee has passed an ordinance that would allow police officers to write tickets for small amounts of marijuana, but some aldermen have lingering concerns. 

After hours of questions and criticsm Thursday, 13 aldermen voted to pass an amended version of the original proposal. Alderman Nicholas Sposato (36th) was the only no vote. Police Superintendant Garry McCarthy and other members of the police department testified at the meeting, pressing upon aldermen the importance of having more latitude when dealing with marijuana possession. 

McCarthy said he wasn't suprised at the depth of questioning over the ordinance, but he wanted to make sure aldermen knew the facts. 

"This is not letting go of those things that we know reduce crime," he said. "I'm a big believer in the broken windows theory of policing where affecting those little things affects the big things. Because the way that  the system is designed right now, it's not achieiving that end. We're not fixing broken windows by locking people up for low-level marijuana offesnes when nine out of 10 of them are not being pursued in court."

But some aldermen were still concerned that giving out tickets for 15 grams or less of marijuana would send the wrong message to Chicago youth. 

"Even though you say we're not legalizing, it's sending the message that it's okay," said Ald. Emma Mitts (37th).
 
Alderman Danny Solis (25th), sponsor of the bill, tried to reconcile this by allowing an amendment that arrests - not tickets - would be used for violations on school grounds or in a public park. And police officials say anyone under 17 caught with marijuana would also be arrested.
 
But there were still many more objections. Alderman Anthony Beale (9th) was one of many aldermen concerned over the amount of pot in the ordinance. Beale said he also had a problem with potential fines.
 
"If you only have one joint, why should it be a $250-500 dollar fine, why can't it be a $50 fine?" he said.
 
Alderman Pat Dowell (3rd) said she felt rushed to make a decision.
 
"You know, the mayor took nice months to make his decision, I really feel we need more time," she said. 
 
Alderman Brendan Reilly (42nd) isn't even on the Public Safety Committee, but he showed up anyway. 
 
"To those folks that have concerns, I'd respectfully submit that this actually will do a lot more to keep our neighborhoods safe," he said. 
 
But in the end, the measure passed with a clear majority. The ordinance faces a full City Council vote next week.