Cannabis Ticketing

By Vanessa Morton

A proposed ordinance, if enacted, would change the way Chicago regulates marijuana possession, potentially raising revenue for the city and allowing police to focus on more serious crimes.

Alderman Danny Solis (25th Ward) introduced the ordinance at a City Council meeting on Nov. 2, which would, in effect, decriminalize small amounts of marijuana. The “marijuana ticketing ordinance” would allow police to ticket those caught with 10 grams or less of cannabis instead of arresting them.

At a City Hall news conference held after the meeting, Solis, along with nine other supporting aldermen, explained why decriminalizing marijuana would be beneficial to the city.

“This is an ordinance that will not only save the city of Chicago money but will also increase and generate revenue,” Solis said. “The [city] can re-allocate police manpower to more serious, dangerous criminal offenses while saving the taxpayers money.”

According to Solis, the city’s police department, on average, makes more than 23,000 arrests per year for possession of small amounts of marijuana, and approximately 90 percent of the cases are thrown out of court. He said he’d rather see the time spent patrolling the neighborhood streets to keep communities safe.

“The real tragedy of this is that most of these arrests [that] are being made are in poor, African-American [and] Hispanic communities where high crime rates are going on and police are being taken out of the field,” Solis said.

Alderman Deborah Graham (29th Ward), a supporter of decriminalization, agreed with Solis and said the ordinance would allow police to use their discretion. She said by looking at the number of arrests, it has become apparent that racial disparity is a huge issue.

Ward-by-ward research was conducted and aldermen accounted for the number of arrests that occurred in their wards. Within a ten-year period, statistics show that the 28th Ward, with a predominately African-American population, led the city with 12,270 arrests in December 2010. However, the 32nd and 43rd wards had 719 and 529 arrests respectively.

John Fritchey, Cook County commissioner, agreed current enforcement procedures are unjust. He said, based on the facts, he encourages passage of the ordinance.

“[The ordinance] is going to help bring down use and is going to have a more equal spread when you are talking about the racial disparity,” Fritchey said. “When [you] look at the fact that 90 percent of these cases are being thrown out, yet 90 percent of these conditions are still minorities, there’s a problem here with how it’s being enforced and how the police are using this as a weapon.”

Solis said the ordinance would create a level playing field for individuals caught with marijuana. He would require that any person found with 10 grams or less of cannabis would be fined $200 and be required to perform up to 10 hours of community service.

Despite many supporters of the ordinance, the mayor has not indicated a possible endorsement.

When asked about the ticketing ordinance after the City Council meeting, he said he had already been given a similar suggestion by a member of the police department’s gang unit and was looking into it. However, he also stated that the issue had two aspects that he needed to further investigate.

“The first part is the issue of the costs of the system, and then there is also the criminal justice side, so I have to evaluate both—not one or the other,” Emanuel said. “Marijuana is a criminal justice offense. If you have looked at other cities that have done something like this, they’ve also created their own set of problems, so if we do it, I want to look at it from both sides and be thoughtful.”

But Solis said he also wants to continue to do more research and estimated there would be at least three hearings to get expert opinions, including the police department and from social scientists. He said the ordinance would most likely not be voted on until sometime next year.

“And then in the beginning of the year, I hope to have the best possible ordinance for the benefit of our city, for the benefit of our neighborhoods and our communities, so we can get more police out into our streets,” Solis said.

Alderman Bob Fioretti (2nd Ward) denied this is a step toward the legalization of marijuana.

“Let’s not forget what this ordinance is about. We are saying marijuana possession is illegal no matter how low the level, [but] what we are saying is there is a more financially sensible and rational method to deal with low-level offenders who are arrested,” Fioretti said. “Offenders will continue to pay the price for their illegal activity and with this ordinance, the city will no longer pay the unnecessary price of unjustified jail and police costs, and we’ll have better use of our resources for other

safety measures.”