Chicago Police Make Marijuana Arrests Regardless of Decriminalization

The following first appeared in Cannabis Now magazine: 


Despite changes to Chicago pot laws allowing police the option of issuing citations as opposed to arresting those caught in possession of small amounts of marijuana, new research concludes that most cops are still opting to throw misdemeanor pot offenders in jail.

Earlier this week, the Illinois Consortium on Drug Policy at Roosevelt University released a disturbing analysis, which indicates that only a small number of Chicago’s misdemeanor drug offenders are being issued tickets – 7 percent – while the remaining 93 percent are being familiarized with the inside of a jail cell.

The study shows that while Chicagoland has experienced a 23 percent decrease in marijuana-related arrests since the city council enacted a decriminalization measure nearly in 2012, it still remains a significantly poorer result than other municipalities throughout the state that have adopted similar measures.

Lead researcher Kathleen Kane-Willis says the study is a cautionary tale about a city struggling to follow through with its newfound pot laws and its crass aversion to progress.

“If we really want marijuana reform, we have to have a consistent policy across the state,” Kane-Willis said during a recent interview with the Chicago Tribune. “Otherwise people end up with different punishments, and the consequences cause more harm. This is not a good way to do policy.”

In an emailed statement to the Chicago Sun-Times, Chicago Police Department spokesperson Adam Collins retaliated against the study’s findings by maintaining that the department is on the road to progress.

“From 2012 to 2013 to the early numbers from 2014, CPD is continuing to make progress in implementing the city’s cannabis ANOV [Administrative Notice of Ordinance Violation] ordinance, and there were nearly 5,000 fewer people arrested for low-level cannabis possession in 2013 than in 2011,” writes Collins. “Like any new process, it has taken time to implement the ordinance, and we believe there’s certainly much more work to be done on full implementation.”

There is speculation that Chicago police have continued to arrest petty marijuana offenders because the city has not generated as much revenue from misdemeanor pot possession as originally predicted, and it has been unsuccessful at collecting fines for those offenses.

Last October, Chicago officials reported the city had only managed to collect 21 percent of the $310,755 in issued pot fines. During the same time frame, Fraternal Order of Police President Mike Shields told the Associated Press that ticketing for pot-related offenses was problematic, and that it was easier just to make the arrest.

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