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CHICAGO (CBS) – A group of Chicago aldermen and a Cook County commissioner said Thursday that they want to lessen the penalty for people arrested with small amounts of marijuana.
Ald. Danny Solis (25th) plans to introduce an ordinance that would require those found with less than 10 grams of marijuana to pay a $200 fine and do 10 hours of community service, instead of facing jail time.
Solis and Cook County Commissioner John Fritchey (D-12th) say the ordinance would reduce the cost of jailing those who are caught with small amounts of the substance and encourage law enforcement to focus their efforts on more serious infractions.
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Right now, an arrest for that much marijuana could result in up to 6 months in jail and a $1,500 fine.
Ald. Walter Burnett (27th) said enforcement falls mainly on black youths, even though marijuana use is widespread beyond the African American community.
“I had the opportunity to go to Lollapalooza and I think I got contact high being at all of those events, police there and everything. It wasn’t predominantly African American and, guess what? No one got arrested at those events,” Burnett said. “But if that was an all African-American event, the jails would probably be filled up.”
Fritchey says the war on alcohol during the era of Prohibition lasted 14 years and didn’t work. He says the war on drugs has lasted 40 years and hasn’t worked in terms of marijuana.
“The reason that we have these laws on the books right now is it is a lot easier to appear tough on crime than to actually be smart on crime,” Fritchey said. “The laws that we have on the books right now have been there to pander to society.”
Fritchey estimated that marijuana enforcement costs Chicago $80 million a year and criminalizes essentially innocent people.
The cost of housing someone in the Cook County Jail for one day is $143, according to Solis and Fritchey.
“This is an ordinance that will not only save the City of Chicago money, but will also increase and generate revenue,” Solis said.
Other council members supporting this ordinance include Ald. Proco Joe Moreno (1st), Ald. Howard Brookins (21st), Ald. Ariel Reboyras (30th), and Ald. Dick Mell (33rd).
“We’re not talking about decriminalizing it,” Mell said. “We’re talking making some common sense, writing a ticket for it.”
On the streets of Chicago Thursday it was hard to find anyone against the idea. Among the supporters were college students.
“Marijuana use is so prevalent. So many people use it, you just can’t arrest everyone,” one said.
Proponents say the ordinance would not only save taxpayers money, it would generate revenue.
Fourteen states have already decriminalized the possession of small amounts of pot. If the ordinance passes, Chicago would be following in the footsteps of cities like Los Angeles, Denver, Boston and Detroit.