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Decriminalize pot, aldermen urge — but mayor says not so fast

Alderman Daniel S. Solis during City Hall press conference before he introduced ordinance City Council which would require fine hours

Alderman Daniel S. Solis during City Hall press conference before he introduced ordinance at City Council which would require fine and hours of community service for those caught with 10 grams or less of marijuana, Wednesday, November 2, 2011. | John H. White~Chicago Sun-Times.

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Chicago's Pot Dilemma, Part I: Should marijuana users be ticketed?
Part II: Chicago’s new Scarface: Joaquin ‘Chapo’ Guzman runs Chicago's marijuana trade
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Updated: December 4, 2011 11:06AM



Mayor Rahm Emanuel said Wednesday he would not be rushed into decriminalizing possession of small amounts of marijuana because doing so creates its own set of problems that other cities have been forced to correct.

The mayor shined the light on his deliberations on the hot-button issue as Chicago aldermen formally introduced their decriminalization plan after releasing ward-by-ward statistics that show minorities bear the brunt of marijuana arrests.

Emanuel disclosed that writing tickets instead of arresting people for small marijuana busts was one of the ideas police officers suggested to him during his summer ride along with one of the Chicago Police Department’s gang units.

That same night, Emanuel said he talked to Police Supt. Garry McCarthy and his First Deputy Al Wysinger and “asked them to look into it.”

Does that mean the mayor is inclined to go along with the idea? Not so fast.

“This issue has two parts to it — not one. The first part, which is what’s motivating people, is the issue of the cost in the system: arresting, overtime, court, jail. Then, there’s also the criminal justice side. I have to evaluate and will evaluate both,” the mayor said.

“If you look at other cities that have done something like this, they have also created their own set of problems on the criminal side. … If I put my support, which I’m not doing yet — I want to look at it from both sides and be thoughtful. Other cities that have done this have then had to go back and do corrections.”

The ordinance introduced at Wednesday’s City Council meeting would allow inundated and understaffed Chicago Police officers to issue $200 tickets to those carrying 10 grams or less of marijuana.

That’s instead of spending hours off the street to haul someone into jail on a misdemeanor charge, only to have 90 percent of those cases dismissed.

At a City Hall news conference earlier Wednesday, nine aldermen pointed to the disproportionate number of minorities arrested for marijuana possession over the last decade.

The West Side’s 28th Ward led the city with 12,270 arrests.

The 32nd and 43rd Wards had 719 and 529 arrests respectively during that time, even though DePaul University straddles both wards.

Seven other black wards — the 15th, 16th, 17th, 20th, 24th, 34th and 37th — each recorded more than 7,000 arrests over the decade. The second lowest number of arrests over the decade — 533 — occurred in the 41st Ward that includes O’Hare Airport.

“The real tragedy of this is that most of these arrests are being made are in poor, African-American, Hispanic communities where high-crime rates are going on and police are being taking out of the field,” said chief sponsoring Ald. Danny Solis (25th), acknowledging that ticket revenue would be an “added plus.”

Ald. Joe Moreno (1st) agreed that, “Marijuana usage between whites, Latinos and African-Americans is the same, [yet] 78 percent of the arrests are for black and brown folks.”

Moreno (1st) pointed to this week’s Chicago Sun-Times series that shows Mexican drug cartels are supplying the bulk of the marijuana on Chicago streets and that grass sales are bankrolling the rest of their drug operations.

“Similar to Prohibition, I would submit that, the less criminal a drug or controlled substance is, the less likely that big cartels and violence is gonna enter the system,” he said.

Ald. Dick Mell (33rd) added, “The king of the marijuana trade — the new Scarface for Chicago, if you read that — you saw that that is the driving factor that brings all the money into these big cartels. … Someday, maybe we’ll look at legalizing it. We’re not talking about that now. Don’t even make that part of the story. But, we’ve got to start looking forward.”

Although the ordinance was introduced at Wednesday’s City Council meeting, Solis acknowledged that it’s not likely to pass until sometime next year and only after “at least two public hearings” and consult with police officials and social scientists.



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