Mayor: Reduce penalties for minor drug cases in IL

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel wants to reduce penalties for minor drug possession cases across the state. He said the move would save taxpayer money and let police focus on more serious crimes

"It's time to free up our resources for the truly violent offenders who pose a bigger threat to our communities and neighborhoods," Emanuel said.

The mayor made his pitch Tuesday to legislators who are part of a House-Senate Criminal Justice Reform Committee. His message, in its simplest form, is this: our jails are clogged with too many low-level, non-violent drug offenders; it costs too much money, hasn't discouraged drug use and sucks up an inordinate amount of police time.

Over the last two years, Chicago police have had the discretion to issue administrative tickets to small-amount pot smokers. Some suburban communities have done the same. The mayor thinks it should be state law.

Anyone caught with 15 grams or less of marijuana would be eligible for a ticket and fine as opposed to jail time. Emanuel also offered a second proposal: if you're caught with one gram or less of any controlled substance, it'd be a Class A misdemeanor instead of the current Class 4 felony.

"We have very severe drug penalties and that hasn't reduced the size of addictions and misuse and problems for people who use drugs," Kathie Kane-Willis, Consortium on Drug Policy, said.

The mayor and his police superintendent continue to advocate for mandatory minimum sentences for gun crimes. With fewer drug abusers in prison there would, in theory, be more space for more violent bad guys. But if the mayor is pushing one to win the other, his critics say "won't work."

"We've already agreed that mandatory minimums don't work and that's the national consensus," State Rep. Ken Dunkin, (D) Chicago, said.

While other states have relaxed drug laws, that doesn't make it an easy sell here.

"If it's part of a larger package and it's done in a way that's targeted and data driven, my hope is we'd come up with something everyone can see is good policy," State Rep. Mike Zalewski, (D) western suburbs, said.

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