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Chicago aldermen introduce ordinance to decriminalize pot

Ald. Danny Solis (25th)  |  Sun-Times files

Ald. Danny Solis (25th) | Sun-Times files

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Updated: November 2, 2011 1:42PM

Armed with ward-by-ward statistics that show minorities bear the brunt of marijuana arrests, Chicago aldermen on Wednesday introduced their plan to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana.

In the 10-year period ending Dec. 31, the West Side’s predominantly African-American 28th Ward led the city with 12,270 arrests.

The 32nd and 43rd Wards had 719 and 529 arrests respectively during that time, with the 43rd recording the fewest pot busts in the city. That’s 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, led by the 16th with 9,366 pot busts. The second-lowest number of arrests over the decade — 533 — occurred in the 41st Ward that includes O’Hare Airport.

At a City Hall news conference Wednesday, nine aldermen pointed to the uneven enforcement as further evidence that it’s time to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana.

Their ordinance 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.

“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 the measure’s chief sponsor, Ald. Danny Solis (25th), acknowledging that ticket revenue would be an “added plus.”

“Over 23,000 arrests per year, on average. Each one of these arrests is taking two officers minimally 1.5 hours into the police station to do the paperwork and book these individuals. That’s over 84,000 police hours that could be answering [calls for] domestic violence, shots heard, man-with-a-gun.”

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 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.”

Though 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.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel has yet to weigh in on the issue.

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