Preckwinkle Wants to Ease Up on Small Pot Busts

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle recently voiced support for decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana because of a growing racial gap in cannabis arrests in Chicago.

According to research conducted by the Chicago Reader's Mick Dumke and Ben Joravsky, the ratio of black to white people that have been arrested for marijuana possession in Chicago has reached 15 to 1:

The racial gap has become so glaring that Cook County Board president Toni Preckwinkle says something has to change, if only because taxpayers can't afford to continue arresting, detaining, and prosecuting low-level marijuana offenders. In an interview last week, Preckwinkle, for the first time, said what no other high-ranking local official has dared: "I think we should decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana, that's for sure."

Preckwinkle added that she recently told Chicago police superintendent Garry McCarthy to "stop arresting people for small amounts of drugs, because you're wasting our time."

The Reader found that of those arrested for marijuana possession, 78 percent were black, 17 percent were Hispanic and 5 percent were white. Of those who pleaded guilty for possession, 89 percent were black, 9 percent were Hispanic and 2 percent were white.

Preckwinkle's suggestion of cannabis decriminalization also comes as a result the amount of pot possessed at the time of these arrest, which in many cases has been relatively small. The Reader discovered that the street value of marijuana found on the convicted offenders averaged around $55.

Preckwinkle told the Reader she objects to the small cannabis busts because of the taxpayer money that is required to incarcerate the low-level offenders. Dumke and Joravsky reported:

In our interview, Preckwinkle noted that it costs taxpayers $143 a day to house someone in the Cook County jail. "The drug policies in this country are stupid and extraordinarily expensive," she said.

Some have attributed the large amount of arrests to inexperience of officers on cannabis beats, who may be uncertain of the difference between a low-level offender and a dealer. However, Chicago police have cited the arrests as part of an overall gesture to uphold an image of justice in the city's neighborhoods.

The Reader reports new Police Supt. Garry McCarthy told Chicago alderman in his confirmation that he plans to maintain a feeling of police control in high-crime neighborhoods.

"I am an absolute advocate for enforcing the little things to prevent the big things," McCarthy said. "Crime is very personal. Everybody who passes a group of kids drinking in the park, everybody who hears a loud radio becomes a victim of that offense. That contributes to a sense of lawlessness. People remember that and it resounds with them."

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