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Rahm Emanuel Backs Pot Tickets Over Arrests

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Mayor Rahm Emanuel says he supports a plan to allow police to issue tickets to people caught with a small amount of marijuana. The proposal would free up police to fight major crime. Sharon Wright reports.

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Mayor Rahm Emanuel is playing his pot card.

The Chicago mayor on Friday plans to back a proposed ordinance that reduces the penalty for possessing small amounts of marijuana within city limits. Emanuel said the change could free up cops for more serious crime and save the department about $1 million.

If the City Council agrees, cops can issue pot tickets instead of arrests for possession of 15 grams or less. Tickets would range from $100 to $500.

After the proposal was introduced last fall by Ald. Danny Solis, Emanuel said he did a little more research and concluded it's not a bad idea.

“The result is an ordinance that allows us to observe the law, while reducing the processing time for minor possession of marijuana – ultimately freeing up police officers for the street,” Emanuel said Friday in a statement.

Until now, Emanuel has stayed out of the pot discussion. Top cop Garry McCarthy recently went on the record saying he's "not a fan" of decriminalizing marijuana but believes a happy medium can be found. Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle has said for months she'd consider a pot policy change.

Solis, expected to introduce the ordinance to the City Council this month, called the mayor's decision an important one and said the council's pending approval is "a major victory in promoting safe neighborhoods."

"One of the most significant results of this ordinance is that it will allow our police officers to spend more time out policing our neighborhoods and less time processing minor offenses and filling out paperwork," Solis said.

The mayor's office notes there were 18,298 arrests last year for possession of less than 10 grams of cannabis. Each case needed four officers to arrest and transport offenders, not to mention tax dollars to incarcerate them.

McCarthy, who seems to have warmed to the idea of some decriminalization, said last year's arrests tied up 45,000-plus police hours.

“The new ordinance nearly cuts that time in half, which equals an approximate $1 million in savings, while freeing up cops to address more serious crime,” he said. 

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