Chicago, IL: Chicago Mayor Richard Daley voiced approval this week for a proposed plan to encourage police to ticket rather than criminally arrest adults found in possession of small amounts of marijuana. The measure was first proposed by a Chicago police sergeant, who estimated the proposal could annually raise $5 million in city revenue.
Under the proposed scheme, police would impose non-criminal fines ranging from $250 to $1,000 for the possession of up to 30 grams of marijuana in lieu of making a criminal arrest. Twelve states - Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Minnesota, Mississippi, Nebraska, Nevada, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon - have enacted similar decriminalization policies, as have various municipalities, including Ann Arbor, Michigan and Madison, Wisconsin.
Under Illinois law, possession of up to 30 grams of marijuana is a criminal misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in jail and a $2,500 fine.
Mayor Daley said that enforcing the criminal law needlessly burdens Chicago taxpayers and wastes police time and resources. Of the more than 15,000 Chicagoans arrested annually for minor marijuana possession, most eventually have their criminal charges dismissed, court records show.
Ironically, recent public statements by US Drug Czar John Walters appear to back Chicago's decriminalization plan. On Wednesday, Walters said he believes that imposing a fine-only penalty upon marijuana smokers would not send a mixed message to the public. "Some people will read that fines downgrade our concern about the issue," he said. "I don't read that."
Walters has previously lobbied against similar municipal efforts to deprioritize marijuana enforcement in Seattle, Washington and Columbia, Missouri. He has also vigorously campaigned against a Canadian plan to decriminalize the possession of 15 grams or less of marijuana, alleging that the enactment of such a measure would be "akin to Canada unilaterally setting up open air toxic waste sites."
For more information, please contact Allen St. Pierre, Executive Director of the NORML Foundation, at (202) 483-5500. A summary of state-by-state marijuana laws is available on NORML's website at: