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Emanuel: Decriminalize Low Level Drug Possession Busts Statewide

By Chuck Sudo in News on Sep 23, 2014 6:15PM

Mayor Rahm Emanuel is in Springfield Tuesday encouraging the Illinois Legislature to decriminalize drug busts statewide, similar to the 2012 ordinance adopted by Chicago. The mayor said in a statement:

“It is time to put our sentencing policies in line with our values, reduce penalties for non-violent, low-level drug offenses so we don’t put people in prison who need drug treatment. It doesn’t make sense that one arrest for a very small amount of a controlled substance can lead to a lifetime of struggles, sending people in and out of prison and putting up barriers to getting a job or finding a place to live.”

Emanuel’s proposal calls for a new state law that would reduce possession of one gram or less of any controlled substance in Illinois from a Class Four Felony to a Class A Misdemeanor. The proposal would also expand the current ordinance currently on the books in Chicago.

As with Chicago’s ordinance, Emanuel championed his proposal as one that would keep police on the street and fighting violent crimes, as well as reduce the number of drug cases working through court systems across the state and the burden on taxpayers that comes from housing suspects in jail while they wait for their cases to go to trial.

But the city’s ordinance hasn’t been the success Emanuel hoped for when City Council passed it. A study released last May by the Illinois Consortium on Drug Policy at Roosevelt University revealed 93 percent of misdemeanor marijuana possession violations still result in an arrest in Chicago. This is despite the number of misdemeanor cannabis possession arrests in Chicago decreasing by 21 percent. That means, despite having the option to issue tickets and fine those found holding, police still opt to arrest offenders, and at a higher rate than before the ordinance was passed.

Former CPD spokesman Adam Collins said at the time enforcing the ordinance was a work in progress. Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy blamed the language in the ordinance and said it needed to be changed so police could write more citations.

“We don’t want to put people in jail for things they don’t need to go to jail for and we don’t want to take officers off the street at the same time. It’s doesn’t make sense for management.”