Emanuel Backs Proposal To Lessen Penalties For Small Amounts Of Marijuana

UPDATED 06/15/12 7:37 a.m.

CHICAGO (CBS) — A proposal to lighten the penalties for possessing small amounts of marijuana in Chicago has the backing of Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

As WBBM Newsradio’s Bob Conway reports, a proposed ordinance, which will require City Council approval, would have police issue a ticket with a fine of up to $500 for those caught with 15 grams of marijuana or less, according to a Mayor’s Office news release.

LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio’s Bob Conway reports

Under current law, possession of any amount of marijuana includes arrest on a misdemeanor charge, and penalties of up to six months in jail and a $1,500 fine.

The ordinance to lessen the penalties was introduced last fall by Ald. Danny Solis (25th). In discussing the ordinance back in October of last year, Cook County Commissioner John Fritchey (D-12th) said it 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.

Emanuel agreed in the news release, saying the ticket approach would free up police personnel, presumably to concentrate on more serious criminal matters.

“When the ordinance was first introduced, I asked the Chicago Police Department to do a thorough analysis to determine if this reform balanced public safety and common-sense rules that save taxpayer dollars to reinvest in putting more officers on the street,” Mayor Emanuel said in a news release. “The result is an ordinance that allows us to observe the law, while reducing the processing time for minor possession of marijuana – ultimately freeing up police officers for the street.”

The Chicago Sun-Times reports Emanuel chose to issue his opinion on marijuana prosecution while in Prague for his daughter’s Bat Mitzvah.

Last year, 18,298 arrests were made for possession of less than 10 grams of pot, but the vast majority of misdemeanor marijuana cases are dismissed, the release said.

Each case requires the manpower of about four police officers – two for an arrest and two for a transport – and places a burden on the Cook County court and jail system, the release said.

Police Supt. Garry McCarthy was quoted supporting the ordinance in the release.

“These arrests tied up more than 45,000 police hours,” McCarthy said in the release. “The new ordinance nearly cuts that time in half, which equals an approximate $1 million in savings, while freeing up cops to address more serious crime.”

Complaints about marijuana enforcement in Chicago have been mounting for years. Ald. Proco “Joe” Moreno (1st) pointed out last fall that even though use of marijuana is constant throughout the city, most arrests are of black and Hispanic defendants.

His comments mirror a Chicago Reader cover article published in July, Also in July, Chicago Reader published a cover story, which found that despite widespread use of marijuana across racial groups, a disproportionate number of those arrested, charged and convicted are African-American.

The analysis by Reader reporter-columnists Ben Joravsky and Mick Dumke found that of those arrested for marijuana possession last year and the year before, 78 percent were black, 17 percent were Hispanic, and only 5 percent were white.

In July of last year, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle called on McCarthy to end low-level marijuana arrests in the city. She declared that the war on drugs has failed, and said marijuana defendants are contributing to overcrowding in the Cook County Jail.

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