’s plan to issue tickets rather than make arrests for possession of small amounts of marijuana was advanced by a panel of aldermen today following a buzz saw of skepticism, setting the stage for final approval at next week’s City Council meeting.
Aldermen questioned the message that the mayor's ordinance would send to youth, whether it would increase demand for drugs and whether it would rack up revenue at the expense of poor and minority residents. All those questions came during a three-hour hearing of the Public Safety Committee, which voted to endorse the measure.
Despite all the questions, aldermen voted 13-1 to send the measure to the full council, which meets next Wednesday.
The committee recommended approval after the proposal was amended to allow for drug education and community service to be required along with a ticket. Another change disallowed the use of tickets on school and park grounds.
“I’m actually a little taken aback by this,” said Ald.
But both Ald.
Like Emanuel, they Solis and McCarthy went so far as to deny they were decriminalizing pot possession, even though the ordinance would make possession of less 15 grams or less of marijuana in most cases would result in a ticket, and a fine of between $250 and $500, instead of an arrest on misdemeanor criminal charges.
"We are not talking about decriminalization," McCarthy said, adding that the vast majority of charges filed against about 20,000 people arrested in the city each year for possession of small amounts of marijuana are dropped. "We are talking about actually holding people accountable for the offense. This ordinance will now allow our officers to remain on the streets and focus on fighting gangs and keeping our communities safe."
McCarthy said people caught smoking pot would still be arrested, as would those toting small amounts in parks or on school property. The city also plans to arrest anyone under 17.
Solis noted that he's the father of an 11-year-old son. "This is not about decriminalizing," he said. "This is not about saying this is OK. This is not about saying that marijuana is no big deal. Absolutely, positively not."
Processing a ticket will take a half hour, compared to four hours for an arrest, McCarthy said. "I know we are going to have these police officers in these violent neighborhoods and hopefully (the extra hours on the street) will be helping to save lives of young men and women like my son," Solis said.
Advocates of ticketing pot possession, including
"If it's not about raising revenue, let's look at reducing these fines," Beale said. "Because right now, out of the 18,298 we're arresting -- that we did last year -- out of that number, I guarantee you the majority of these people are poor families in our communities that can't afford a $250 to $500 fine."