The Chicago City Council voted 43-2 today to decriminalize marijuana, reports Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. The group released this statement in anticipation of today's vote:
"I expect the City Council to show great leadership by decriminalizing marijuana possession today," said former assistant state's attorney of Cook County Jim Gierach. "As a prosecutor, I've seen first hand that our marijuana laws aren't working. This proposal shows that our leaders here in Chicago realize that focusing on this nonviolent crime is not only costing us tax precious dollars, it's costing precious lives."
The proposal already had support from Mayor Rahm Emanuel, local police, and a majority of the 50 city council members before Gierach started his petition. But Gierach hopes the petition shows that there is public support for reforming drug laws.
The Chicago Justice Project, meanwhile, looks at some of the issues that will persist even with decriminalization in place. Namely, the fact that cops will get to decide for themselves whether to ticket or arrest:
The hobgoblin of policing is the ability of police officers to decide whom to arrest, or ticket, and whom to allow to go on their way without any kind of sanction. While I applaud the work of advocates who have toiled behind the scenes to get us to where we are, the reality is that the ability of officers to invoke either sanction is troubling. Why? Because of the racial divides that still exist in this city and the propensity of police officers to make race based decisions. Even when officers do not make decisions based on race, there is going to be a feeling in communities of color that the offices are in fact making a decision strictly based on race. This law may just backfire on the police and serve to widen the gap between minority communities and the CPD as their use of discretion, rightly or wrongly, is interpreted as being used to let whites off with tickets while black and brown people get arrested.
Emanuel announced his support for decriminalization on June 15. The new policy would decriminalize possession up to 15 grams. Getting caught with less than that amount gets you a $500 or less fine. Getting caught with more could be a felony.