A ordinance passed this week in the city of Chicago reduces the penalty you’ll face if you are caught in possession of marijuana. The change follows similar such ordinances in several large cities across the nation. Now, if you are found in possession of less than 15 grams (or a half-ounce) of marijuana, police can issue a ticket rather than arresting you.
This means possession of marijuana within the city limits of Chicago is no longer a criminal offense and is instead a violation punishable only by a fine. Throughout the rest of the state, the law has not changed.
Not everyone was behind the measure, but it passed the city council with only 3 votes against and 43 for. Mayor Rahm Emanuel supported it too.
One opponent, councilman Roberto Maldonado said he is concerned that people will see the new law as a “license to smoke marijuana in public.” But to my knowledge, no one is looking to pay the $250 to $500 fine that violating the ordinance carries.
In 2011, there were 18,298 arrests for possession of less than 10 grams of marijuana. These arrests take up valuable time and resources, requiring the work of police officers, jail personnel, and court workers when the time could be spent on criminals who actually pose some kind of risk to society.
Emanuel added that about 80% of these cases are eventually dismissed in court, making them an even bigger waste of time.
Many say these arrests unfairly target minorities. That blacks and Hispanics are more likely to be searched by police and then, more likely to be arrested after a small amount of pot is found.
“If you had been white and/or privileged, a small amount of marijuana had already been decriminalized, because the only people who have been arrested for these types of crime have been black and brown individuals,” said Alderman Howard Brookins, echoing the sentiments of many Chicagoans.
Reuters reminds folks that not everyone will be able to get off with a ticket. Possession of any amount of pot on school grounds or in a park will still be grounds for arrest. Also if you are under the age of 17 or can’t produce identification, you can be arrested.
Throughout the rest of the state, possession of marijuana remains a misdemeanor offense. Fifteen grams would get you a Class A Misdemeanor charge. Even if you are caught with less than 2.5 grams, you can face misdemeanor penalties.
If you are caught in possession of marijuana and charged with a criminal offense, you need the assistance of a local defense attorney, someone who understands the slight differences in the law and your rights within the system. Contact our offices today to discuss your case and how we might be able to help.