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Aldermen respond to Emanuel's marijuana ticket idea

Chicago Ald. Ed Burke, 14th ward, has said he needs more details before he would agree to support Mayor Rahm Emanuel's call to partially decriminalize small amounts of marijuana.

Last week, Emanuel announced his support for a proposal to give police officers the option of issuing tickets for possession of 15 grams of marijuana or less.

On Tuesday at the City Club of Chicago, Burke said the move could send the wrong message to children.

"Is this a slippery slope we begin sliding down? I'll tell you as a parent, I'm very concerned with anything that gives kids the idea this is not a bad thing to do," Burke said.

The powerful chair of the Finance Committee also said the move could pose some practical problems for police.

"How do you write a ticket to somebody that doesn't have a driver's license or identification?" Burke said. "Do you believe what the person says - my name is Joe Blow or my name is George Washington - and he's got no identification to back that up? How do you then guarantee that person is ever going to show up for the administrative hearing?"

Burke said he is not opposed to the ordinance but said he wants the police department to be more clear about what it would mean from an enforcement standpoint.

The plan was originally introduced to the city council last year by Ald. Danny Solis, 25th ward. That proposal authorized police to use discretion to issue tickets for possession of up to 10 grams of pot. Emanuel increased that amount to 15 grams and also introduced a sliding scale for fines. Under the modified proposal, fines would range from $100 to $500 depending on the amount, according to a spokeswoman from the mayor's office.

Spokeswoman Jennifer Martinez-Roth said the proposed ordinance would free up police officers to pursue more serious offenders.

Ald. 'Proco' Joe Moreno, 1st ward, co-sponsored Solis' ordinance last year. He said the ordinance would provide the "proper fine and penalty" for possessing marijuana.

"I think the one thing we can agree on is that it is absolutely ridiculous to have this amount of police hours spent on minor arrests," Moreno said. "Let's start with this [ordinance] and see where it goes."

The City Council could consider the ordinance later this month. Roth said the matter would be referred to the Committee on Public Safety.

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