Friday, July 24, 2009

One Toke Over the 'Unincorporated County' Line - A Decriminalization Story

The Cook County Board shocked the press, Chicago's Mayor, and even their own Board President, Todd Stroger earlier this week by passing a marijuana decriminalization ordinance seemingly under the radar of a celebrated tax cut.

The measure gives sheriff's and deputies in unincorporated Cook County (not any of the city, or other townships who have their own law enforcement) the OPTION of issuing a $200 ticket for less than 10 grams of pot, with NO criminal record. Championed by Commissioner Earlean Collins (whose grandson was arrested on a first offense marijuana charge), she created the bill to help give 'young people who make mistakes a second chance' and to reduce overcrowded jails with non violent offenders (not to mention making a little coin for the county with those fines and reduced prosecution costs).

Board President Todd Stroger came out originally skeptical, threatening to veto the measure, but had a thorough change of heart by Thursday. "“I’m fine with it. It’s just another tool a law enforcement office can use,” Stroger said.
(from Chicago Sun Times),stroger-pot-possession-legislation-072309.article

Chicago Mayor Daley only 5 years ago supported a similar measure in the city, but seems to have had a change of heart. While a supporter of decriminalization, Daley argued that pot was "already decriminalized" in Illinois, because "99% of the cases were thrown out".
Thursday, he blasted the Board's decision as a step on a slippery slope of drug acceptance, a move that seemed a tad hypocritical. And pointless, since the law does not affect the city.,mayor-daley-chicago-pot-marijuana-072209.article

HOWEVER, I have yet to light one up in celebration. While the new law does give offenders a second chance, it also gives officers a HUGE amount of leeway that can (and most likely will) be prejudiced. Numerous studies in IL and across the nation reveal that Black people are prosecuted 2-3 times more than whites for marijuana crimes. In rural IL, it isn't hard to figure out who's gonna get tickets and who's gonna get arrested , at the cops "discretion". This law is rife with potential for abuse, which leaves a bad taste in my mouth, kinda like smokin' a seed.

I have always supported decriminalization, and this misdemeanor fine policy can indeed generate revenue while saving millions in incarceration costs of non violent pot "offenders". But I am very wary of any system that leaves the option of prosecution to the 'judgment call' of the police. Not that I question their judgment, it's their PRE judgment I worry about.


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