Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel (D) said last Friday he backed a city council proposal to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana. The council is set to vote later this month on an ordinance that would decriminalize the possession of up to 15 grams of pot.
Chicago police arrested more than 18,000 people on small-time (less than 10 grams) marijuana possession charges last year. Each arrest involves about four officers -- two to arrest and two to transport -- said a statement from the mayor's office.
"These arrests tied up more than 45,000 police hours," Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy said in the statement. "The new ordinance nearly cuts that time in half, which equals an approximate $1 million in savings, while freeing up cops to address more serious crime."
Under existing law, people caught with small amounts of marijuana face up to six months in jail. If the ordinance is approved, they would face only a citation and the loss of their weed.
Emanuel had originally been lukewarm on decriminalization, saying when the topic was broached last year only that he would ask the police to do an analysis. Now, that analysis is in, and Emanuel is on board.
"The result is an ordinance that allows us to observe the law, while reducing the processing time for minor possession of marijuana -- ultimately freeing up police officers for the street," Emanuel said.
The move on decriminalization comes as Chicago faces a long, hot summer. There have been 185 homicides through May 13, up from 116 during the same period last year. And the violence has continued since then, with 22 more people killed this month. Freeing up police resources by decriminalization could be seen as helping to address the violence problem.
The ordinance will likely go for a vote before the City Council on June 27.