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September 2004
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Chicago to go with fines for marijuana possession?

Vice Squad and D’Alliance has covered it, and Bill at Peoria Pundit has been wondering what my take would be of this

Mayor Daley on Tuesday embraced a police sergeant’s scheme to raise money for the city budget by ticketing people caught with small amounts of marijuana, but opponents are already taking shots at the controversial plan.

Daley emphasized that most charges involving small amounts of pot are thrown out in the state court system in Chicago.

“If 99 percent of the cases are all thrown out and you have a police officer going, why? Why do we arrest the individual, seize the marijuana, [go] to court and they’re all thrown out? It costs you a lot of money for police officers to go to court.

Oh, yes. As Bill says, it’s always about the money. Notice the throwaway sentence at the end of the next section:

Fraternal Order of Police president Mark Donahue acknowledged too many cases involving small quantities of marijuana are “pitched at the initial hearing.” But FOP members stand to lose thousands of dollars in court overtime if the city starts ticketing marijuana users instead of jailing them, he said.

Also, “it’s an issue of moral or societal acceptance whether to do that,” Donahue said.

Right.
Look, I’m all for the notion that people caught with marijuana shouldn’t have criminal records, and for reducing the clog on courts, but I’m not ready to endorse a scheme that is poorly designed.

“If they charge the same as a parking ticket, I think that’s OK,” said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the [Drug Policy] alliance.

But fines could create an incentive for officers to become more aggressive in busting pot smokers, which happened in Australia when fines were substituted for potential jail time, Nadelmann said.

And fines ranging from $250 for 10 grams of pot to $1,000 for 20 to 30 grams — which Donegan recommended in his proposal to top Chicago Police brass last week — would place a huge burden on the young and poor likely to get hit with most of the tickets, Nadelmann added.

So what happens when there’s a budget crunch and officers are instructed to increase their quota of marijuana fines?
My preference, of course, is legalization. If we’re looking for an intermediate step, I’d suggest the British route of downgrading and only arresting in “flagrant” cases or sales. It seems to be working well there.

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