Rahm right on marijuana change
SouthtownStar editorial June 19, 2012 11:08PM
Updated: July 21, 2012 6:22AM
We don’t know what took him so long, but we’re glad that Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel has finally taken a stand on decriminalizing the possession of small amounts of marijuana. After considering the issue for months, he said last week that he supports it, meaning an ordinance introduced last fall in the city council has a good chance of passage.
It would allow police to issue tickets rather than make an arrest when they find someone with 15 grams or less of pot. The fine could range from $100 to $500, but no incarceration or criminal record would result. Now, if you’re caught with a little weed, you’re charged with a misdemeanor and could get jail time and be fined as much as $1,500.
Emanuel joins Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, who proposed such a change a year ago, contending that it was needed to reduce the overcrowded county jail and save the county money. She said about 70 percent of jail inmates await trial for nonviolent crimes, many for minor drug offenses, and it costs $165 per day to house each of them.
Cook County allows ticketing for small amounts of pot in unincorporated areas patrolled by sheriff’s police, but Preckwinkle correctly pointed out that Chicago needs to sign on as well to make a major dent in the jail population.
The new measure has another major benefit — letting police focus on more serious crime. City cops last year busted nearly 18,300 people with less than 10 grams of marijuana, and police estimate that the new law would mean about 20,000 hours of police time each year could be devoted elsewhere.
The views of Emanuel and Preckwinkle are in sync with a growing number of public officials — 15 states have decriminalized small amounts of pot, and more are considering it, according to the Washington, D.C.-based Marijuana Policy Project.
Chicago aldermen should approve decriminalization, which might increase the chances of Illinois lawmakers doing so statewide. That’s something we would also support.