If an ordinance proposed by lawmakers in Chicago last week sparks enough support among city leaders, the cash-strapped Windy City may soon be turning to marijuana to bag some much-needed green.
Alderman Daniel Solis proposed the city ease its current policies regarding small possessions of marijuana last Wednesday, saying a change would generate $7 million for the city and save vast resources currently being used to fight small possessions of the drug.
Solis is proposing people caught with less than 10 grams of marijuana in Chicago be given a $200 ticket rather than face the current misdemeanor charges that come with potential jail time.
Stacy Raker, a spokesperson for Solis, said the ordinance is in part about saving and generating money and in part about opening a dialogue within the city about the decriminalization of marijuana.
Raker said the ordinance is estimated to save around $70 million within the legal system, beginning with time saved by officers on reduced paperwork and flowing all the way to the court system, where 87 percent of misdemeanor marijuana cases have been dismissed between 2006 and 2010 according to the Cook County Clerk of the Circuit Court.
Gary Storck, a spokesperson for the Wisconsin National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws ( NORML ), said Chicago has been lagging behind other cities for some time now in its dealing with marijuana possession.
“It seems our neighbors are waking up to the high cost of marijuana prohibition,” Storck said.
Wisconsin, Milwaukee and Dane counties in particular, has had similar laws on the books for years now, Storck said. According to Chapter 24 of the Milwaukee County Code of Ordinances, those found in possession of up to 25 grams of marijuana are subject to a fine of between $250 and $500.
Storck said NORML will be celebrating the 35th anniversary of a similar law to the proposed Chicago bill in Madison in 2012.
Raker said the proposal still has to pass through committee, which will likely take two or three months, before it can be voted on by the council. She estimated the earliest the changes could take effect would be sometime next year.
In general, Raker said both public opinion and city leaders have been receptive and “very positive” about the proposal.
“Something like 27 or 28 signed on out of the fifty aldermen,” Raker said. “The public has been very happy and the proposal is very efficient.”
The Rev. Gregory O’Meara, Marquette professor of law, said while he hasn’t seen the specifics of the proposed Chicago bill, decriminalization has seemed to work well in other cities around the country.
“Ethically, it could go one way or the other,” he said.
O’Meara, formerly a captain for the felony team of the Metro Drug Enforcement Unit of the Milwaukee District Attorney’s office, said often people mistakenly believe the system will work without mistakes or “friction.”
“As a lawyer, you learn to step back from what’s proposed and identify where ( a bill ) can go wrong,” O’Meara said. “The concern on marijuana is that we still don’t know the long-term effects – how it affects the children of users as well as possible genetic defects.”
O’Meara said, in general, measures reducing penalties or decriminalizing substances make it easier for not only adults but also children to get that substance – something he has an issue with.
“Realistically, 13 and 14 year-olds – whom we don’t know what kinds of effects ( marijuana ) has on – are going to be able to get their hands on it,” O’Meara said. “It’s not just rational adults that will get it. That, and the long term health effects ( of the drug ), are the questions I would ask ( about decriminalization ).”