Lawmakers propose decriminalization of some marijuana possession

October 27, 2011

Michell Eloy

(Getty/Uriel Sinai)

Chicago and Cook County political leaders are urging the city to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana.

On Thursday, Cook County Commissioner John Fritchey and Chicago aldermen Richard Mell (33rd), Walter Burnett (27th), Danny Solis (25th) and Ariel Reboyras (30th) asked city and county law enforcement to consider issuing $200 tickets to offenders in possession of 10 grams of marijuana or less. Under current city law, possession of marijuana is an arrestable misdemeanor offense.

"We want to make it clear, we're not approving of the smoking of pot," said Reboyras. "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 his beat."

The Chicago police department said it made more than 22,000 arrests last year for minor marijuana possession. Commissioner Fritchey said processing those arrests costs the county $80 million a year and takes police 84,000 hours; hours he said could be better spent on the street. Alderman Solis said issuing tickets could also be a new revenue source for a city that's struggling with debt.

"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."

In a statement Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle endorsed the lawmakers' efforts.

"The decades-long war on drugs has failed to eradicate drug use and no longer holds up as sound policy," said Preckwinkle, in a statement. "As I’ve said before, the social cost of incarceration, coupled with the cost of prolonged, unnecessary court proceedings has taken a toll on our criminal justice system and on taxpayers for far too long."

A similar law allows the sheriff's office to give $200 tickets for possession of 10 grams or less of marijuana in Cook County towns or villages where there is no other police force. As of now, the only place that fits that description is Ford Heights, a suburb south of Chicago.