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A Chicago alderman wants petty marijuana offenses in the city to be punished with a fine and community service versus jail time.
West Side Ald. Danny Solis (25th) has introduced an ordinance that would impose a $200 fine and 10 hours of community service for offenders caught with less than 10 grams of marijuana.
Solis joins a growing list of city and state officials, including Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, who want police resources and prison time channeled toward more serious crimes.
"We think this is a solution to get more police man-hours into our neighborhoods," Solis said at a press conference on Nov. 9 outside Chicago City Council chambers.
Solis came equipped with ward-by-ward documentation of arrests over a 10-year span for offenses involving 30 grams or less of marijuana. 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.
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.
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), a supporter of the ordinance, speaking at last Wednesday's press conference. He, along with eight other aldermen supports 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."
Aldermen who support the ordinance, though, 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.
Chicago saw more than 20,000 arrests last year for petty marijuana crimes. 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 on arrests and follow-up investigations, Solis noted.
The alderman wants to fine-tune the ordinance language by holding at least two hearings with social scientists and members of the police department. A possible vote on the measure is eyed for 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.
But not everyone supports the ordinance.
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."