Ward Room
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Lawmakers Weigh Pot Tickets over Arrests

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Oct. 27: Aldermen Richard Mell (33rd), Walter Burnett Jr. (27th Ward), Ariel Reboyras (30th) and Cook County commissioner John Fritchey called on the city Thursday to issue tickets to those caught with small amounts of marijuana in place of making arrests.

    To save money and relieve jail overcrowding, a group of city lawmakers wants to issue tickets to those caught with small amounts of marijuana instead of sending offenders to jail.

    Several municipalities already have weighed the pros and cons of pot ticketing and Cook County board president Toni Preckwinkle has made her opinions known, but some Chicago aldermen want to open up the dialogue as well.

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    Aldermen Richard Mell (33rd), Walter Burnett Jr. (27th Ward), Ariel Reboyras (30th) and Cook County commissioner John Fritchey called on the city Thursday to issue tickets in place of making arrests.

    "The simple truth is that the decades-long policies that we have had toward possession of small amounts of marijuana have failed to do anything other than fill our jails with non-violent offenders, strain our budgets, and according to some studies, even cause an increase in more serious crime," said Fritchey in a statement.

    Misdemeanor marijuana violations at this point could mean jail time, a $1,500 fine or a trial, taking police off the street to testify.

    Supporters of ticketing offenders say it saves officers time, relieves jail overcrowding and brings in money. Opponents say ticketing weakens the severity of the crime.

    Still the Cook County Board in 2009 approved an ordinance allowing sheriff's police to issue $200 tickets for possession of 10 grams or less. In August, Cook County board president Toni Preckwinkle complained of pot arrests clogging the county jail system, costing taxpayers millions.

    Rep. La Shawn K. Ford said in a statement he filed legislation in January to reduce penalties for possession of small amounts of marijuana. "I think it’s time we have a civil and public debate on the issue," Ford said.

    Even Police Supt. Garry McCarthy has considered the idea of writing tickets.

    In Indiana a pot violation can mean up to a year in jail and a $5,000 fine. In Wisconsin, a first offense could mean six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.