Rahm's Pot Plan Passes Council Committee

After a substantial debate, a City Council committee on Thursday approved a new Chicago pot policy.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel last week threw his support behind the proposed policy that would allow Chicago Police to issue pot tickets instead of making arrests for possession of 15 grams of marijuana or less. The mayor believes the plan would put more officers on the streets since fewer cops are needed to issue a ticket than make an arrest.

The plan didn't sit well with some committeemen, though. Ald. Jason Ervin (28th) said his West Side ward has too many drug corners and feels the pot tickets won't help.

"This is police work," he said, questioning how his neighborhood will improve with this policy.

Ald. Anthony Beale (9th) wondered aloud whether the tickets are "a revenue generator" and said the ticket price "hurts poor people."

Members of the public expressed concern as well.

"I see kids every day whose drug use began with pot or alcohol and ended with heroin, LSD, or crack cocaine," said Executive Director of the Hazelden Treatment Center Terry Shapiro.

Ald. Ed Burke (14th) said he has "grave misgivings" about the plan but eventually stood behind Police Supt. Garry McCarthy's testimony.

"We are not talking about decriminalization, we are talking about holding people accountable," McCarthy told the committee.

Under the new policy, McCarthy said officers would have the option of issuing a ticket to someone, rather than placing them under arrest. Arrests would be mandated for anyone caught smoking pot in public or possessing marijuana in or near a school or in or near a park

"This is giving us the ability to not take people into custody where we don't have that latitude right now," he said. "This is giving us the latitude to issue a ticket. We will still retain the ability, if we need to prevent violence, if we have gangbangers who are on the corner where, for instance, there's been a shooting the day before, we can have the ability to actually take those folks into custody and charge them with a state charge rather than a city ordinance if need be."

Emanuel has said the change frees up cops for more serious crime and saves the department about $1 million.

The mayor's office notes there were 45,000-plus police hours used for 18,298 arrests last year for possession of less than 10 grams of cannabis. Each case needed four officers to arrest and transport offenders.

"[The current policy] means they're not on the street fighting gangs, fighting gun violence," Emanuel said Wednesday of Chicago Police. "We pay them overtime when we go to court. I'd rather pay them overtime to sit on the street fighting gangs and gun violence."

Under the plan, anyone caught with pot under the age of 17 or without proper identification would still be arrested. Tickets would range from $250 to $500. A portion of that money, Emanuel said this week, would be earmarked for an anti-drug campaign aimed at kids.

"I want to make sure our children get a clear and unambiguous message as it relates to drug use: it is wrong and it is dangerous," he said Tuesday.

The plan goes to the full council next week.

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