"I'm not sure that these laws ever made sense," said Alderman Mell. "But when the City Council and the County Board are both in the middle of difficult budget discussions and trying not to cut vital services such as libraries or health care, for us to spend this kind of money to arrest people for these offenses isn't the right way to go. We probably have more issues related to alcohol abuse in the city but we're not arresting people coming out of the neighborhood bar."
Selective enforcement of existing laws across different racial groups has also been a cause for concern. While the rate of use of marijuana has been found to be relatively consistent regardless of race, African-Americans account for 78 percent of those arrested, 89 percent of those convicted, and 92 percent of those jailed for low-level marijuana possession in Chicago.
"Throwing people in jail for possession of small amounts of pot doesn't make sense for anybody," stated Alderman Burnett (27th). "But when studies show that rates of marijuana use are similar for all races yet we see that 90% of the convictions in the city are minorities, that raises some real concerns in my mind. It is hard enough for young adults in the inner city to find jobs, giving them an arrest record for this type of offense just makes it harder."
The proponents also cite the fact that the time spent by police officers in processing these arrests, about 84,000 hours per year in Cook County, takes officers away from the neighborhoods where they are most needed. They say that the statistic is more troubling in light of the fact that nearly 90% of the arrests are eventually dismissed.
"The time that the officers are spending taking these people to the station and processing the paperwork is time that they could be out patrolling on the streets," said Alderman Reboyras (30th). "With all of the talk about police shortages and the need to do more than less, I know that's where my constituents would rather see the police working."
Some cities are already following Cook County's lead. While Evanston has an ordinance that carries fines of $50 to $500 for arrests involving possession of small amounts marijuana, Evanston police have usually taken the option of charging an offender under state law, which can carry six months in jail and a fine of $1,500 for possession of up to 10 grams. Just last month, Evanston Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl stated that she wants her police force to solely charge individuals with a local ordinance violation and issue tickets for the offenses.
"Given that whenever a Chicago police officer makes an arrest, it requires the resources provided through County government, such as the Sheriff, States Attorney, and courts. Cook County has a significant financial interest in the law enforcement policy of the city," said Fritchey. "We're in this together and we should pursue a unified, commonsense approach to this issue."