Mayor Rahm Emanuel is throwing his support behind a plan to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana.
Under the proposed ordinance, police officers will have the discretion to issue tickets with fines ranging from $100 to $500 for people carrying 15 grams or less of pot.
Last fall, Ald. Danny Solis, 25th, introduced a similar plan, selling the idea as a way to raise revenue for the city and free up police to chase more serious criminals. Emanuel is backing a modified version of Solis’ ordinance.
“When the ordinance was first introduced, I asked the Chicago Police Department to do a thorough analysis to determine if this reform balanced public safety and common-sense rules that save taxpayer dollars to reinvest in putting more officers on the street,” Emanuel said in a statement. “The result is an ordinance that allows us to observe the law, while reducing the processing time for minor possession of marijuana — ultimately freeing up police officers for the street.”
Currently people caught in possession face a misdemeanor charge punishable by up to six months in jail and a $1,500 fine.
Chicago Police Department statistics indicate that last year there were 18,298 arrests for possession of less than 10 grams of cannabis, according to the mayor’s office. Each case involves approximately four officers — two arresting and two transporting officers — and places an additional burden on the Cook County court and jail system.
Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy estimates that the new ordinance will free up more than 20,000 hours of police time, which he estimates is the equivalent of about $1 million in savings.
“I am pleased that Mayor Emanuel has taken this step to address this important issue,” Solis said in a statement. “One of the most significant results of this ordinance is that it will allow our police officers to spend more time out policing our neighborhoods and less time processing minor offenses and filling out paperwork. Passing this ordinance will be a major victory in promoting safe neighborhoods and reducing crime.”
Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle has previously expressed support for such a plan, saying that the Cook County Jail and courts are jammed with petty marijuana offenders. She has said: “Taxpayers deserve our resources to be spent more productively — on long-term infrastructure projects and on alternative diversion programs for our youth population who circulate through the criminal justice system.”