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Marijuana: Cook County Board Passes Decriminalization Ordinance, But Veto Possibility Looms

Submitted by Phillip Smith on (Issue #595)
Drug War Issues

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.

Permission to Reprint: This content is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license. Content of a purely educational nature in Drug War Chronicle appear courtesy of DRCNet Foundation, unless otherwise noted.


Anonymous (not verified)

Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart's response is incredibly typical and amazing in the example it presents. Dart opines "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,". Are you kidding me?!? Pot has been illegal since the 1930's. I think after 60 years we already have enough experience in arrests, adjudication and scientific studies, etc. to make the decision NOW that we should even forego the stupid step of fining people for possession and simply move ahead to legalize and regulate marijuana. The alternative is more arrests every day that should never be occurring in the first place. Sheriff Dart, use your police resources for pursuing real crime and you should also work to have these draconian marijuana laws changed so that you don't feel compelled to use resources to address an issue that should rightly be dealt with in the same manner as alcohol and cigarettes. Stop ruining people's lives over the use of something that is less dangerous than alcohol or cigarettes.

Fri, 07/24/2009 - 3:11pm Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Wow you all must be stoned. Read it again slowly this time.

It only decriminalizes in "unincorporated" areas of cook county..

How many square miles of land are unincorporated in cook county 5 maybe 10..

They are definately testing the reaction towards decriminalization.

They really aren't doing anything at all except trolling the media and pot heads.

Mon, 08/03/2009 - 7:18pm Permalink
Roger York (not verified)

When are our elected officials going to get up enough backbone to stop regurgitating the same old worn out excuses for continuing this insanity and listen to what their constituants demand......what I put into my body is my choice......not the government. I am so tired of hearing the warning about cannabis leading to harder drugs.....WRONG!!!! The scientific proof is already there, Sheriff Dart. The reasons for Cannabis prohibition are many and complex. The result of prohibition has been devasting to this country and the world. The solution is simple-legalize now!

Tue, 07/28/2009 - 12:36pm Permalink
connor (not verified)

I just want to know that if marijunana was decrimilized, would it not bring ths country out of debt as well as promote new medicines that will help the diseased.
Also is it not a complete natural substancee?
THE only reason this Plant is illegal is because of all the damn paper factoies that would loose all there buisness, because lord knows that cutting down hundreds of thousands of trees annually with hard labor, is much easier and cheaper then using a marijuana plant. idiotssssssssssssssssssssssssssssss

Sat, 08/15/2009 - 4:50pm Permalink
Epileptic in M… (not verified)

All of these closed minded repressors ought to be required to take a class regarding the original purpose of the illegalization of the marijuana plant, the health benefits for a laundry list of different conditions, and the danger of consuming marijuana compared to other legal drugs on the market (consumption includes multiple SMOKE FREE methods for those who support recent smoking bans). Admit that someone before you made a mistake in congress and fully legalize it. I'm fairly certain something similar happened with alcohol... oh yeah, prohibition. We all saw how well that went, and the dangers of alcohol massively dwarf the short list of negatives of the marijuana plant. Not only does the female flowering plant have countless medical benefits, but the male hemp plant can be used as a substitute for a number of different products, including paper products (I was under the impression we try to recycle paper products because we don't want to continue destroying our native forests) textiles, fuel, rope, etc. Combined with the fact that the male plant grows so much faster than the current plants used for these jobs, I feel the decision here is perfectly clear by all standpoints. These were some of the main reasons the plant was made illegal in the first place (someone didn't want the cotton business to go under). Let's try to leave this earth in the same or better condition for our children, and correct a mistake made 80 years ago. Unfortunately due to party politics and pharmaceutical companies "buying" politicians, the general public is unable to get what they want/need. I happen to have a condition that marijuana can help regulate and even permanently repress in some cases: epilepsy. Unfortunately since it is not legal or even decriminalized in my area, I cannot receive a prescription for it. I cannot be properly evaluated for the amount and strain(s) I should be using. Pharmaceutical drugs for epilepsy have uncomfortable controlling effects on the mind and body, and most are actually made for people with bipolar disorder or depression. When you are not bipolar or depressed, these drugs make you unhappy and emotionless. Marijuana does not have these effects.. at least not on me. Personally, I prefer to be capable of smiling and laughing when I'm with my family. The two times I've attempted to stop smoking marijuana in the last two years, I had breakthrough seizures even while on high doses of two different over the counter pharmaceutical medications. My condition is one of many that marijuana use can help. I now get the exciting decision between medicating with a product that is illegal or having seizures. For those unfamiliar with the condition, every time I have a seizure, it is illegal to drive for 6 months... difficult. I also have a 3 year old daughter that I'm frequently with alone. How is she supposed to be safe if daddy is seizing on the floor for 5 min followed by 1-2 hours of partially delusional consciousness? I don't even remember my name for about 30 min after having a seizure. This is just one individual situation that seriously affects my personal life, but is a problem countless Americans are faced with. Epilepsy is only one of a long list of conditions marijuana can help. Now, to quickly talk about things the way most politicians understand it... I'm curious to know how much money is spent on border control, attempts to take down cartels, and wasted time in court. I wonder how much the government would tax it. I'm guessing a lot. I would also guess we could start giving business to local growers rather than sending millions of US dollars out of the country to drug cartels. It goes without saying that pharmaceutical companies would end up with most of the money anyway, right? So, the government saves money, the pharmaceutical companies make money, and consumers get what they need for their medical conditions. Who loses here? If you know, please tell me.
-Frustrated Epileptic in Illinois

Sat, 08/15/2009 - 6:13pm Permalink

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