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Cook County fixes pot decriminalization bill, will now be enforced

Updated: September 7, 2011 11:20PM

This might sound familiar: If you’re busted carrying a small amount of marijuana in portions of Cook County patrolled by the sheriff, you may walk away with just a ticket.

This time, though, the ticket writing option is going to be enforced.

Back in 2009, the Cook County Board approved an ordinance that decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana in unincorporated areas, but the Sun-Times recently reported that zero tickets had been written.

Sheriff’s officials argued the ordinance needed re-tooling. They wanted it to include areas where they are the primary law enforcement agency which, for now, is suburban Ford Heights. That suburb contracts with the sheriff to patrol.

“There was a disparity” in how officers could handle someone caught with 10 grams of marijuana or less in Ford Heights compared to an unincorporated area, and the ordinance needed to be shored up to ensure equal enforcement, said Undersheriff Zelda Whittler.

So Cook County Commissioners on Wednesday amended the ordinance to include any areas where the sheriff is the primary law enforcement agency. And the sheriff’s office is now ready to write the tickets.

Board President Toni Preckwinkle praised the move. She has championed a push to halt arrests for low-level drug possession offenses and treat substance abuse as a public health issue.

Halting low-level drug arrests could save the county thousands or more as low-level detainees can spend five to 21 days behind bars — at a cost of $143 daily — awaiting a preliminary hearing on drug possession case only to see it dropped.

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