Chicago City Council Passes Marijuana Decriminalization Ordinance: Tickets Instead of Arrest for Low-Level Possession

Press Release June 26, 2012
Media Contact

Tony Newman 646-335-5384 or Ethan Nadelmann 646-335-2240</p>

The Chicago City Council passed – by a vote of 43 to 3 — an ordinance today that will decriminalize small amounts of marijuana. People who are caught with under half an ounce of marijuana will now face fines between 250 and 500 dollars instead of being arrested.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy came out in support of the ordinance earlier this month and have talked about the need to free up police resources to fight more serious crime.

There are still situations where people will be arrested, including for smoking in public, on school ground or in parks, if the person doesn’t have ID or is under the age of 17.

There is growing momentum to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana, with California reducing penalties in 2010, Connecticut in 2011 and Rhode Island earlier this year.  In New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo recently proposed decriminalizing up to 25 grams of marijuana in public view, which drew the support of New York City’s Mayor, police commissioner and all five of the City’s district attorneys – but Republicans in the state Senate blocked it from becoming law.

Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance issued the following statement:

“The Chicago City Council’s vote today to allow police to issue a ticket rather than arrest someone for marijuana possession is very much a step in the right direction.  The near unanimous support for the measure as well as specific comments by alderman demonstrated significant concern with the waste of police resources, harmful consequences of an arrest and the fact that over three-fourths of all marijuana arrests are of African Americans.  If the measure is implemented in good faith, it should reduce the negative consequences of the state’s marijuana prohibition laws in Chicago.

“But the devil is very much in the details as to whether the new ordinance will ultimately do more good than harm.  The fine of $250, and possibly more, is excessive – and may result in undue hardship for young and poor people without the resources to pay.  Police will retain the legal authority to arrest rather than ticket people for marijuana possession, thereby allowing for the perpetuation of racial bias in enforcing the state’s marijuana laws.  More people may be stopped and charged with marijuana possession offenses than before.  And the mayor and police chief’s insistence that their proposal “is not decriminalization” is less than reassuring.

"Chicago’s aldermen need to remain vigilant in ensuring that the measure they approved today actually accomplishes what they hope."

A young woman holds a sign that says "End the Drug War."

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