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CHICAGO (CBS) – Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle is apologizing for saying former President Ronald Reagan deserves “a special place in hell” for his role in the war on drugs.
According to the Chicago Tribune, while attending a conference at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Preckwinkle was defending the recent decision by the Chicago City Council to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana.
Asked whether that approach should also include providing drug treatment for people who are ticketed – rather than arrested – for possessing small amounts of pot, Preckwinkle said drug treatment should be part of the healthcare system, not the criminal justice system.
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Later Tuesday, her office issued an apology.
“I regret my earlier comment regarding former President Ronald Reagan. I have been outspoken on the failure of the War on Drugs to end illegal drug use or sales in this country. However, this is too complicated to lay all of it out on President Reagan’s doorstep and inflammatory language only distracts from the larger issue,” Preckwinkle said in a written statement.
Preckwinkle has long been a critic of the war on drugs, but has not used such inflammatory language before.
In July 2011, she urged Police Supt. Garry McCarthy to end low-level marijuana arrests in Chicago.
“It’s pretty well-known within the criminal justice system that the judges will dismiss those charges for very modest amounts of illicit drugs,” she said at the time. “So I suggested to him that the police might stop arresting people for this, since it clogs up our jail, and their cases will be dismissed out anyway.”
Earlier in the year, she had said the war on drugs had failed.
She said police, prosecutors, defense attorneys and judges should work together to reduce the jail population by treating drug use as a public health problem, not a criminal justice issue.
“If 70 percent of the people are [in jail] for nonviolent offenses – either accused or convicted and sentenced to time for nonviolent offenses –this isn’t the best use of our resources,” she said last year.
In June, the City Council approved a plan to make the possession of small amounts of marijuana punishable only by a ticket in most cases.
The proposal gives police officers the option of giving offenders caught with grams of marijuana or less a ticket with a fine of $250 to $500 for first offense. Anyone caught a second time within 30 days will face an automatic $500 fine.
Under the new provision, anyone caught smoking marijuana in public would still be arrested, as would anyone caught with marijuana on school grounds, or at a public park. Anyone under the age of 17 would not be eligible for a ticket, nor would anyone who isn’t carrying proper ID when they are caught.
The mayor also included a provision requiring that some of the fines collected under his plan to be used to fund anti-drug campaigns aimed at youths.