Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel wants to decriminalize marijuana possession across the state, reducing the penalty to a misdemeanor for those caught with 1 gram or less of a controlled substance.
"If you have a minor possession, how do you go on in your life," Emanuel said, "and get the education or the employment opportunities so that you are not held back from what was a minor possession?"
Speaking to a General Assembly committee, Emanuel said Chicago made nearly 5,000 fewer arrests last year for low-level cannabis possession. He said it's allowing Chicago police to spend more time on the street and less time filling out paperwork.
"Focus our resources, primarily police in this case, on the real challenges we had because 15 grams or less wasn't the real challenge to public safety," Emanuel said.
But some in the legislature worry that the mayor’s pitch on marijuana may be a way to resurrect the issue of stricter penalties for gun crimes including mandatory minimum sentences.
"Mandatory minimums simply don't work," State Rep. Ken Dunkin (5th) said. "That's what he advocated for and he lost on in Springfield, and this is a result of that. Just because he is behind it doesn't mean it's a green light."
"I think the mayor wants to do something on gun violence," Sen. Kwame Raoul (13th) said. "He is not hell bent on mandatory minimums."
The mayor's office noted that 45,000-plus police hours were used in 2011 in 18,298 arrests for possession of less than 10 grams of cannabis. Each case needed four officers to arrest and transport offenders, according to police statistics.
Emanuel said since fewer cops are needed to issue a ticket than make an arrest, decriminalizing possession of small amounts of pot puts more officers on the streets.
He also planned to use a portion of the ticket revenue for an anti-drug campaign aimed at kids.
The mayor’s office estimates that roughly 7,000 people are arrested each year for possession of 1 gram of less of a drug.
Emanuel is up for re-election in February.