In a sweeping victory for Mayor Rahm Emanuel, the Chicago City Council voted 43 to 3 on Wednesday to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana.
Instead of requiring police to make an arrest when they discover someone possessing less than 15 grams of the drug, they have the option of simply issuing a ticket. Arrests are still mandatory for people who use the drug in public. Fines for misdemeanor possession will range from $100-$500, whereas the prior policy placed the fine at $1,500.
Emanuel, former chief of staff to President Barack Obama, said he backed the proposal to free up police for more important work, like tracking down violent criminals instead of spending hundreds of hours on misdemeanor arrests. He also noted that over 18,000 cases concerning small amounts of marijuana flooded the judicial system in 2010 alone, adding that the vast majority were dismissed.
President Obama, similarly, said early in his political career that he favors decriminalization, but he has not acted on that belief as president. His administration has been even more adamant about enforcing federal marijuana laws than his predecessor’s, carrying out hundreds of busts in states where voters or officials have approved the drug for medical use.
The American public, by and large, has seen a major shift in attitudes toward marijuana in the last decade, to the point where supporting lower penalties or even outright legalization can be a political boon to politicians. A recent poll by the conservative survey group Rasmussen found that 56 percent believe the drug should be taxed and regulated like alcohol.
Chicago’s new policy is set to take effect on July 27.
Stephen C. Webster is the senior editor of Raw Story, and is based out of Austin, Texas. He previously worked as the associate editor of The Lone Star Iconoclast in Crawford, Texas, where he covered state politics and the peace movement’s resurgence at the start of the Iraq war. Webster has also contributed to publications such as True/Slant, Austin Monthly, The Dallas Business Journal, The Dallas Morning News, Fort Worth Weekly, The News Connection and others. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenCWebster.
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