The Chicagoist will be launching later but in the meantime please enjoy our archives.

County Board Decriminalizes Small Amount of Marijuana But Stroger Threatens Veto

By Marcus Gilmer in News on Jul 22, 2009 2:40PM

In a move that's caught almost everyone by surprise, the Cook County Board yesterday voted to decriminalize marijuana in very small amounts in unincorporated parts of Cook County. Under the legislation passed, sheriffs can arrest someone possessing less than 10 grams of marijuana on misdemeanor charges or simply issue a $200 ticket. The measure was introduced by Commissioner Earlean Collins who admitted personal motivations: her grandson was arrested for having a small amount of marijuana. Collins, though, made a salient point: arresting marijuana offenders is crowding jails. According to the Sun-Times, she said:

“They got my grandson...he had a half of joint in the car. They stopped him. They took him to the police station. They impounded his car and let him out the next morning. Why do that? A lot of kids make a mistake, have a little marijuana, and they can avoid going to jail or court.”

Sheriff Tom Dart was caught by surprise, saying he expected a series of public hearings before the issue was brought up for a vote. Cook County Board President Todd Stroger was also taken by surprise and indicated in an interview on WGN Radio that he may be looking to veto rather than sign the measure: "I don't know how this popped up, and I haven't done a lot of research. Off the top of my head, I don't think it's such a great idea. I'm not really an advocate of trying to decriminalize the drug that people start before they move on to the higher stuff." The Sun-Times talked to Republican commissioner Gregg Goslin who opposed the measure and Goslin said, “You can’t have a patchwork quilt of law in every county. That law should be voted on at the state level."

Marijuana has been a hot topic these days in the state as a medical marjiuana bill remains in limbo in the general assembly - with a November 30, 2009 deadline - and U.S. Rep. Mark Kirk, who recently announced his campaign for U.S. Senate, wants tougher penalties for more potent forms of marijuana.

Under current state law, possession of under 2.5 grams is a Class C misdemeanor (up to 30 days in jail plus fine) and between 2.5 grams and 10 grams is a Class B misdemeanor (30 days to six months in jail plus fine) [via General Assembly]. Under the new ordinance, a first-time offense would also stay off one's criminal record. 10 grams doesn't amount to all that much; would a $200 ticket really be all that horrible, especially given that Governor Quinn has mulled over releasing 10,000 non-violent prisoners in an effort to save the state money in the face of a huge multi-billion dollar budget gap?

Pot wasn't the only matter of business that raised interest at yesterday's meeting. We'll have a quick look at another tax roll-back coming up in a bit.