The American public is fed up with the criminalization of cannabis. And now, more and more politicians are finally starting to get the message.
This afternoon, members of the Chicago City Council voted overwhelmingly to halt the practice of arresting minor marijuana offenders. By a vote of 43 to 3, members of the Council approved a new municipal ordinance that reduces most marijuana possession offenses to a ticket-like offense — no arrest, no jail, and no criminal record.
Under present law, the possession of any amount of marijuana is defined as a criminal misdemeanor offense, punishable by 30 days to one year imprisonment. Under the new municipal law, which takes effect August 4, police will in most cases now have the option of issuing civil citations, punishable by a fine, in those instances involving the possession of up to 15 grams (about one-half ounce) of marijuana.
The reduced penalties will not apply to cases involving the possession of marijuana in public parks or on school grounds, nor would they apply to incidences involving public cannabis smoking.
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel — a former opponent of reducing marijuana penalties — advocated in favor of the new measure, which mimics police policy in many surrounding suburbs. In 2010, the city of Philadelphia enacted a similar policy.
Advocates for the new law had argued that the present criminal enforcement of marijuana possession laws disproportionately targeted African American and Hispanic youth. According to data compiled and posted by the website marijuana-arrests.com, 95 percent of all defendants arrested on marijuana charges in Chicago are either Black or Hispanic. Of those individuals criminally convicted of low-level marijuana possession offenses, 98 percent are either Black or Hispanic.