In 2012, Chicago instituted an ordinance that allowed police to issue tickets for persons in possession of 15 grams of marijuana or less. Officers in 2013 & 2014 have now arrested 3,000 few people since the implementation of this office. On Monday, the Office of Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez announced that it is now looking to make changes even bigger changes in the way it handles drug cases.
Cases of Misdemeanor cannabis possession, i.e. any possession of 30 grams of less for a first offender, will no longer be prosecuted. Offenders charged with Class 4 Felony Possession, currently punishable by a fine up to $25,000, one to three years in prison or both, for the possession of 30 grams or less by a subsequent offender may now be diverted into alternative treatment programs, not the jails. "Drug Schools" as they are being referred to, will assit in treating addiction as a health condition and not a crime. This new program will apply to offenders with less than three arrest or citations.
Also this week, the Illinois House approved a bill to decriminalize marijuana possession across the entire state. Cannabis possession of 15 grams or less that are now punishable by a fine of up to $2,500 or up to a year in jail will translate to no court time and a fine of up to $125. This deregulation is a logical step following the passage of the Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Actl allowing citizens with certain medical ailments to purchase marijuana from a licensed provider to treat those conditions. To continue utilizing tax dollars to prosecute these crimes is superfluous. The Illinois House Bill seeks to equalize punishments implemented across the state.
Decriminalization does not necessarily translate into Legalize Now. Alvarez clarified that the announcement is not indicative of the State’s Attorney’s office support for the legalization of marijuana or promotion of drug use but instead is a decision to use the resources of the State’s Attorney’s office more effectively and efficiently.
What does this mean then for those currently being prosecuted for these low level possession charges? Reports say that some may be dismissed, but that the law will not necessarily be applied retroactively. Moreover, offenders may be still be ticketed and fined for offenses.
But, by ending prosecution of low level drug possession, the State’s Attorney’s office will free up several resources. Last year, Class 4 felony drug possession accounted for 25% of all felony cases in Cook County. Cook County prosecuted 15,000 misdemeanor cannabis cases. This new policy will not only lower the amount of citizens in the Cook County jails, but it will also lower the amount of adversarial interaction among police & citizens and free up time for officers to deal with more serious crimes.
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