City, County Officials Call 

for New Marijuana Policy


Say Ticketing for Possession

Makes Practical + Economic Sense


CHICAGO - Cook County Commissioner John Fritchey (12th) was joined by a cross-section of Chicago Aldermen to call upon Chicago police and law enforcement officials in other Cook County municipalities to start issuing tickets for possession of small amounts of marijuana rather than arresting offenders.  Fritchey, along with Aldermen Richard Mell (33rd), Walter Burnett (27th) and Ariel Reboyras (30th), maintain that such a move not only makes practical sense, but also that it would save tens of millions of dollars and free up undermanned police forces to focus on more serious crimes.


The officials are urging the Chicago Police Department and suburban forces to follow the practice of Cook County, which passed an ordinance allowing the Cook County Sheriff to issue a $200 ticket for possession of less than 10 grams of marijuana rather than arresting the individuals. 


"The simple truth is that the decades-long policies that we have had toward possession of small amounts of marijuana have failed to do anything other than fill our jails with non-violent offenders, strain our budgets, and according to some studies, even cause an increase in more serious crime," stated Commissioner Fritchey. "Being smart on crime in the real world is more important than acting tough on crime because you think it's politically smart. We need to admit that just like Prohibition was a failed policy that produced adverse consequences, the war on drugs simply did not work. The only difference is that while Prohibition lasted 14 years, this has gone on for 40 years."


Recent research shows that Chicago police make approximately 23,000 arrests each year for marijuana possession, with another 5,000 annual arrests being made in Cook County suburbs. The cost of opening each of these cases, combined with the associated costs of incarceration, are estimated to cost Cook County taxpayers nearly $80 million annually.


"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."




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I hope that you find these occasional updates to be useful.  Please do not hesitate to contact my office if I can ever be of assistance to you.  I can be reached at 773-871-4000 or via e-mail at commish@fritchey.com.

- John Fritchey