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Preckwinkle wants police to stop making low-level marijuana arrests

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle says she has talked Chicago’s police commissioner about halting arrests for low-level drug possession.

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle says she has talked to Chicago’s police commissioner about halting arrests for low-level drug possession. | File~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: November 2, 2011 12:43AM

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, who boldly declared last month that the war on drugs has failed, said she’s talked with Chicago’s new police Supt. Garry McCarthy about halting arrests for low-level drug possession offenses.

“It’s pretty well known within the criminal justice system that the judges will dismiss those charges [involving] very modest amounts of illicit drugs,” she said.

“I suggested to him that although the law is pretty clear that such possession is a violation of the law, that since the judges routinely and almost universally dismiss such low-level drug charges that the police might stop arresting people for this since it clogs up our jail and these people their cases will be dismissed out anyway,” Preckwinkle told reporters after Wednesday’s Cook County Board meeting.

Preckwinkle didn’t provide specifics, but her staff later said she was referring to solely marijuana possession cases.

Preckwinkle said she did talk with McCarthy after he was hired earlier this year. She is trying to reduce the jail population. It costs $142 a day per prisoner. She proposed directing money toward education and drug treatment.

According to the Preckwinkle administration, a large number of possession cases are dropped during a preliminary hearing, but by then the accused will spend anywhere from five to 21 days in jail awaiting that hearing. Preckwinkle said both on the campaign trail and in office that she’d like to expand deferral programs to keep people out of the jail and address substance abuse as a public health issue

Police spokeswoman Maureen Biggane confirmed McCarthy is taking Preckwinkle’s suggestion to heart. “At this time, the Chicago Police Department is reviewing the possibility of enforcement action other than physical arrest for certain cannabis offenses,” Biggane said in a written statement.

In 2004, then-Mayor Daley embraced the idea of issuing tickets for minor pot violations but the plan never got off the ground.

Back in 2009, the Cook County Board approved an ordinance that decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana. The measure allows Cook County Sheriff’s Police to issue a $200 ticket for possessing 10 grams or less of marijuana in unincorporated parts of the county.

No tickets have been issued in connection with the 2009 ordinance because some of the language needs to be shored up, according to Frank Bilecki in the Cook County Sheriff’s Office. That includes specifying sheriff’s deputies may also write tickets where they are the primary police enforcement — including suburban Ford Heights.

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