Chicago saw more than 20,000 arrests last year for possession of less than 30 grams of marijuana, prompting Ald. Danny Solis (25th) to introduce an ordinance aimed at better using police officers’ time and leaving more room in local jails for those accused of more serious crimes.
Under the proposal, offenders caught with 10 grams or less of marijuana would be required to pay a fine of $200 and complete 10 hours of community service, instead of serving jail time.
“We think this is a solution to get more police man-hours into our neighborhoods,” Solis said at a press conference before last Wednesday’s Chicago City Council meeting.
Equipped with ward-by-ward documentation of arrests made for possession of 30 grams or less of marijuana over a 10-year span, Solis said the Marijuana Ticketing Ordinance would enable police officers to spend more time with high-priority violent offenders and also generate as much as $7 million in revenue for the city.
Ald. Jason Ervin’s 28th Ward, which includes parts of Austin, North Lawndale and Garfield Park, had the most arrests in the city, with 12,270 since 2001.
Solis said police officers spend an average of 90 minutes on each arrest of low-level cannabis offenders. This totals 84,000 police hours each year making arrests and following up on them.
He wants to fine-tune the ordinance language by holding at least two hearings with social scientists and members of the police department, with a possible vote on the measure not happening until early next year.
Some groups applauded Solis’ proposal.
“Decriminalizing minor marijuana offenses makes sense for everyone,” said Keith Stroup, legal counsel for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, which advocates legalizing marijuana.
“It saves valuable law enforcement resources for serious and violent crime, while recognizing that marijuana smokers should not be treated like criminals,” Stroup said.
Solis’ research found that the average value of marijuana found on arrested individuals was $55, while the cost of jailing the offender for one day in the Cook County Jail is $143.
“Offenders will continue to pay the price for their illegal activities,” said Ald. Bob Fioretti (2nd), who also spoke in favor of the proposal at Wednesday’s press conference. He, along with eight other aldermen including Ald. Dick Mell (33rd) and Ald. Ariel Reboyras (30th), support the proposal.
“There is a more financially sensible and rational method to deal with low-level offenders,” Fioretti said. “The city will no longer pay the unnecessary price of unjustified jail … we will have better means for our resources for public safety.”
New York has enacted a similar law; if an offender is caught with 25 grams or less of marijuana, the penalty is a civil infraction and a $100 fine.
But not everyone supports the proposal.
The Partnership for a Drug Free America issued a statement opposing decriminalizing and legalizing marijuana: “Marijuana, like other intoxicants, damages relationships, affects the quality of work (academic or other) and limits potential.
“Adding marijuana to the menu of legally available and potentially harmful substances will make it more likely that kids will use it.”
Aldermen who support the ordinance were adamant that it does not put legalization on the table.
“This is not a move toward legalization,” said Ald. Howard Brookins (21st), whose ward has seen more than 7,000 arrests of low-level marijuana offenders since 2001. “Our resources are stretched.”