Cook County County Commissioner John Fritchey says an across-the-board hike on alcohol taxes can easily be avoided, if the city of Chicago decriminalizes small amounts of marijuana.
Fritchey is one of several local officials pushing a decriminalization ordinance. He wants the city to write tickets for people caught with small amounts of pot, rather than arresting them and sending them to court, only to see the vast majority of those cases dropped.
In a press release Sunday, Fritchey pointed out that the county would save millions by avoiding all those costly legal proceedings. He says the savings would easily surpass the money the county would make on a plan to raise the taxes on alcohol. County Board President Toni Preckwinkle proposed a 50 percent hike on alcohol taxes to help close a $315 million deficit.
Preckwinkle's alcohol tax hike is supposed to net the county nearly $11 million next year. But according to Fritchey's figures, prosecuting arrests for marijuana possession costs the county anywhere from $57 million to $78 million annually. Even a low estimate of cutting those arrests by 20 percent would save the county more money than the alcohol tax would bring in, Fritchey says.
Fritchey plans to introduce an amendment to the budget on Monday, that would allow the alcohol tax to go forward, but would automatically repeal it after the city successfully passes a marijuana decriminalization law.
An ordinance that would make small amounts of pot a ticket-able offense has already been introduced in Chicago City Council.