The Cook County (greater Chicago) Board Tuesday night passed a measure decriminalizing the possession of up to 10 grams of marijuana, but it is unclear if Board President Todd Stroger will allow it to take effect. He told the Chicago Tribune that he wasn't ready to commit one way or another.
Under the ordinance, police officers would have the ability to issue a ticket with a $200 fine rather than making an arrest and filing criminal charges. If enacted, the ordinance would at first apply only to those unincorporated areas of the county where the commission is in charge. But the move would give municipal police forces within the county, including Chicago, the option to adopt decriminalization as well.
"Why bog down the courts with that kind of thing when we can just charge them a little fine instead?" said Commissioner Earlean Collins, chief sponsor of the measure, who added that her grandson had been arrested and jailed for a small amount of marijuana. "That's what this ordinance in the state allows us to do, to charge them a little fine, and then we will collect the fine rather than them charging them, taking them to the jail lockup, having them the next morning show up in court, and then bogging down the system, and they take the fine," she said.
"Lots of college towns do this," said Commissioner Bill Beavers. "We're just catching up to the 21st century."
Unsurprisingly, Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart thought the move was premature. "It should be looked at, but as far as decriminalizing it, there needs to be a real thorough debate before people go down that road as far as what A, scientifically what information shows, but then B, what prosecutorially have been done with the cases," Dart said.
But Board President Stroger was initally coy about his possible veto plans. "I don't know. I wasn't paying enough attention to it. I'll find out about it later," Stroger said. "I can't comment on it."
By Wednesday morning, though, Stogner told local radio host Greg Jarrett he didn't think it was a good idea. "I'm not really an advocate of trying to decriminalize the drug that people start before they move on to the higher stuff," echoing the discredited "gateway theory" that marijuana use leads to harder drug use.
Chicago Mayor Richard Daley was equally coy when asked about the ordinance Wednesday. "We just had a ban on smoking. People say you can't smoke, they said, 'Please don't smoke.' And now everyone's saying, 'Let's all smoke marijuana.' I mean, after a while you wonder where America's going to," Daley said. But when asked directly whether he was against the ordinance, Daley waffled. The issue is "really clouded," he said, declining to stake out a position.
That's something of a retreat for Mayor Daley. Just a few years ago, he supported decriminalization in Chicago, saying most minor pot cases were thrown out. "If 99 percent of the cases are thrown out and we have police officers going to court, why?" Daley asked then. "It costs you a lot of money for police officers to go to court... You have to look at that... proposal."
But Board President Stoger is the man with the power to kill the ordinance, not Daley. If he does veto the measure, it will be tough to override. Under board rules, it takes 14 votes on the 18-person council to override. The measure did not pass by that great a margin.