Monroe: Aldermen, County Commissioner Propose Ticketing to Replace Small Pot Busts

Monroe El Stop SignBy Tiffany Boncan
The Red Line Project

Posted: Tuesday, Nov. 1, 2011

Cook County Commissioner John Fritchey and four Chicago aldermen called upon local law enforcement Thursday to begin issuing tickets instead of making arrests for possessing small amounts of marijuana.

Ald. Danny Solis (25th Ward), Walter Burnett (27th Ward), Ariel Reboyras (30th Ward) and Richard Mell (33rd Ward) supported Fritchey in a press conference on the 11th floor of the County Building, saying they believe this change would put city and suburban resources to better use and save taxpayers millions of dollars.

“We need a new policy,” Fritchey said, “and a new way of thinking about this.”

Current laws state marijuana possession to be a Class B misdemeanor. This means offenders could face up to six months jail time, as well as a $1,500 fine.

Cook County passed an ordinance stating that if an offender were found in possession of 10 grams of marijuana or less, they would be issued a $200 ticket, instead of being arrested and sent through the court process. The group urges Mayor Emanuel and CPD Superintendent Garry McCarthy to adopt and follow this practice.

The proponents cited recent research that showed Chicago police arrest 23,000 offenders for possession annually, and another 5,000 arrests are made in the suburbs. Processing these cases and incarceration costs taxpayers nearly $80 million a year.

"Given that whenever a Chicago police officer makes an arrest, it requires the resources provided through County government, such as the sheriff, states attorney and courts," Fritchey said. "We're in this together and we should pursue a unified, commonsense approach to this issue."

Solis said that when officers make an arrest for marijuana possession, they have to go through two hours of paperwork at their respective stations to process it.

Emanuel and McCarthy have both publicly stated they plan to put Chicago cops back on the street. These aldermen said marijuana-related work takes the officers away from the neighborhood where they’re most needed.

"With all of the talk about police shortages and the need to do more than less, I know that's where my constituents would rather see the police working,” Reboyras said.

Solis also said could be a point of revenue - that collecting the $200 fines could be money the city can use.

“When the City Council and the County Board are both in the middle of difficult budget discussions and trying not to cut vital services such as libraries or health care,” Mell said, “for us to spend this kind of money to arrest people for these offenses isn't the right way to go.”

Fritchey also wanted to acknowledge long-time proponents of the plan, such as Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle. She released a statement regarding the proposal.

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

There is also a social component to this change. Burnett said that having an arrest record affects public-housing eligibility, and eviction from current housing, as well as future employment opportunities.

“It is hard enough for young adults in the inner city to find jobs,” Burnett said. “Giving them an arrest record for this type of offense just makes it harder."

Research shows 90 percent of these cases are eventually dismissed.  The group insists that law enforcement resources and taxpayers’ money can be better spent.

“Being smart on crime in the real world is more important than acting tough on crime because you think it's politically smart,” Fritchey said.

The aldermen and the commissioner said they know the proposal probably won’t be passed immediately, but they were glad to have shown a unified front and started a dialogue on the issue at hand.

The group also wanted to make clear that this move does not show that they support the use of marijuana. Fritchey said Tickets would only be issued for possession. But if there were any indication that offenders intend to distribute, the necessary arrest and subsequent investigation would still take place. 

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