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Rahm’s pot plan: Those under 17 or without ID will still get arrested

A proposal thwould decriminalize possessiless than 2.5 grams cannabis send violators incity court rather than Lake County Circuit Court could

A proposal that would decriminalize possession of less than 2.5 grams of cannabis and send violators into city court rather than Lake County Circuit Court could move before the Waukegan City Council as the weather warms up.| Sun-Times file

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Updated: June 20, 2012 7:06PM

Young people under 17 caught in Chicago with small amounts of marijuana and anyone without “proper identification” would be ineligible for pot tickets and would be arrested — just as they are now — under Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s proposed decriminalization plan.

The ordinance to be considered Thursday by a City Council committee also includes fines ranging from $250 to $500 — up from a $100 minimum in Emanuel’s original plan — with the maximum fine assessed against anyone slapped with a second citation within a 30-day period.

Chicago Police officers will undergo “field-test training that includes recognition of marijuana, how to use a test kit, how to write up a charge” and identify “packaging for sale” before the ordinance takes effect, officials said.

The 15-gram maximum was “intended to approximate the difference between an offender who possesses marijuana and one who intends to sell it,” according to a fact sheet prepared for Chicago aldermen.

“Offenders under the age of 17 or those without proper ID would not be eligible for a ticket and would not be treated differently [than they are now] under this ordinance,” the fact sheet states, addressing a key concern raised by aldermen.

“The fine would range between $250 and $500 based on the number of offenses on a person’s record,” the sheet says. “The maximum fine would be assessed if an individual receives a second citation in a 30-day period.”

Like others who violate municipal codes, ticketed offenders could pay the fine by mail or request a hearing before an administrative hearing officer if they want to contest the citation.

The City Council’s Committee on Public Safety will hold a hearing on the mayor’s ordinance at 10 a.m. Thursday.

Chicago Police officials will testify that 97 percent of last year’s arrests for less than 2.5 grams of pot resulted in no conviction. For amounts ranging from 2.5 to 10 grams, the no-conviction rate was 85 percent.

In the one-year period ending in July 2011, police made 18,298 arrests for small amounts of marijuana, consuming an estimated 46,000 hours of police time. Pot tickets would cut that processing time in half, officials said.

“It does not require completion of a case report or an arrest report. The offender does not have to be transported to the district. And there are less resources required at lock-up,” the fact sheet states.

At an unrelated news conference Wednesday, Emanuel said he expects the fine-print in the ordinance — and the facts laid out by police officials — to convince squeamish aldermen to sign on to his plan.

“I expect people to ask questions like I asked questions. I didn’t kind of do this frivolously. I took nine months to think about it ….[But] I think aldermen will get comfortable with knowing there’s a right way to spend the time of our police officers,” the mayor said.

“We have police officers … arresting people for 10 grams, 11 grams, 12 grams. A huge amount of time dedicated to that. Then, they go to court. That means they’re not on the street fighting gangs, fighting gun violence. We pay ’em overtime when they go to court. I’d rather pay ‘em overtime to sit on the street fighting gangs and gun violence.”

Emanuel’s plan to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana has drawn fire from aldermen, a former police superintendent and a former federal drug czar.

But, the mayor said, “A lot people in the criminal justice system who’ve spent many years in the war on drugs have actually advocated steps like this.”

The qualms they have expressed are not expected to stop approval of an ordinance that had 26 co-signers when it was introduced by Ald. Danny Solis (25th) last fall. And that was long before the mayor signed on.

“This is a healthy discussion to have because we’re making a change. I think it’s a smart change because I want our police officers focused on serious violent crime,” Emanuel said.

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