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City won’t go to pot by changing drug law

Updated: July 16, 2012 6:42AM

A couple of months ago, we took a brief vacation to visit our kid in college in Los Angeles, and my wife booked a hotel in Venice Beach, a funky little oceanfront neighborhood that unbeknownst to us probably qualifies as the medical marijuana capital of America.

We discovered this shortly after arrival when we encountered a medical marijuana storefront clinic on what seemed like every block, more than one on some blocks.

The clinics are easy to spot. There’s usually a sign with a big green cross — like the red cross outside a typical medical clinic only green — and often somebody standing in the doorway in a green lab coat yelling something like: “The doctor is in, mon.”

(I swear I’d seen some of these same guys on a beach in Jamaica.)

The clinics made it perfectly clear that for the cost of an examination by their doctor most anybody could be diagnosed with some ailment for which they would receive a medical cannabis card that would entitle them to buy the drug at the nearby collective, usually located just around the corner.

As it happened, I did not obtain a medical cannabis card. In fact, as I disclosed many years ago in response to the latest politician admitting he had smoked pot (but hadn’t inhaled), I have never smoked marijuana, not even once, which for somebody of my generation is actually more embarrassing than admitting you were a stoner.

For that reason, I never feel totally comfortable taking part in the debate over liberalizing our drug laws, which will resume Friday with Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s announcement that Chicago Police are going to begin ticketing instead of arresting persons caught with small amounts of marijuana.

My Venice Beach experience was a good reminder, though, that the sky doesn’t fall, as some seem to fear, every time we ease our marijuana laws, although it might look a little hazier.

Without detracting from the mayor having seized the initiative here, it bears pointing out that it was Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle who actually did the initiating by sticking her neck out a year ago and starting the discussion about the need for pot decriminalization.

Preckwinkle applauded Emanuel for what she called a “great step forward.”

Preckwinkle said the policy change should help end the disproportionate impact of marijuana enforcement efforts on minorities, citing statistics that African Americans account for 78 percent of those arrested, 89 percent of those convicted and 92 percent of those jailed for low-level marijuana possession — even though pot use is thought to be equal across racial lines. That in turn should reduce the number of minorities with arrest records that later serve as an impediment to employment, she told me.

In addition, the measure should help the city raise revenue while allowing the county to cut the costs of its criminal justice system, now clogged with minor drug cases, Preckwinkle said.

“It’s a good beginning,” said Preckwinkle, who wasn’t prepared to suggest what the next step should be.

I’d suggest going straight to legalization before messing around with any silly medical marijuana law like California’s.

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