Chicago City Council to vote Wednesday on marijuana ticketing proposal

June 21, 2012 (CHICAGO)

A public safety committee voted to endorse the controversial rule Thursday that city officials say will allow police officers to focus on more serious crimes.

The measure now goes to the full City Council.

There was quite a healthy debate about the issue. Is this going the wrong direction in fighting crime? Or is this a way to fight crime more efficiently?

After days of press releases and press conferences, aldermen got a crack at a proposed ordinance making pot a ticketable offense.

"The worst thing that can happen is send a wrong to the youth, if they think it's okay," said 37th Ward Alderman Emma Mitts. "What's going to happen to them?"

Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy testified before City Council's Committee on Public Safety. He outlined the proposal that would make possession of marijuana of 15 grams of less punishable with a ticket and a fine between $250 and $500.

"It's significant man hours we're losing to processing these arrests, when at the end of the day 90 percent end of being non-processed," McCarthy said.

The proposal was rolled out last Friday by the mayor's office.

"There's a penalty. It's wrong. I want to make sure our police officers and legal system is focused on the gang bangers and the drug dealers to make our streets safe," said Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

Some aldermen voiced concern about the message this would send and how this would impact neighborhoods already battling drug issues.

But after hearing testimony the committee approved the ordinance.

"It reeks of common sense, and that's something generally rare around here," said 42nd Ward Alderman Brendan Reilly. "I think this is a step in the right direction."

Terry Shapiro is the executive director of Hazelden Treatment Center. He testified against the ordinance and says he is seeing increasing addiction issues in young people.

"The marijuana they're smoking today is not the marijuana of the '70s," Shapiro said.

Kathleen Kane-Willis studies drug policy at Roosevelt and also testified. She finds the city proposal in line with other states with alternative sanctions for marijuana.

"There is nothing in the literature that would support that this policy would increase use or create new users," said Kane-Willis. "Demand is separate from penalty."

There were some amendments to the ordinance. For instance, this would not apply for someone with pot on school grounds or at park. They would be arrested. Those openly smoking pot would also be locked up.

The ordinance is set to go to the full City Council next Wednesday.

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