CHICAGO — Chicago pot smokers may soon be able to light up without fear of jail time.
Several Windy City councilmen said Thursday they plan to introduce a local law that would decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana in order to cut costs and free up police to handle more serious crimes.
Chicago police make about 23,000 arrests each year for possession of the drug, a misdemeanor which nevertheless carries stiff punishment of up to six months in jail, a $1,500 fine and a criminal record.
Under the new law set to be introduced next week, people caught with less than 10 grams of marijuana would instead face a $200 fine and up to 10 hours of community service.
Marijuana has already been downgraded to a lesser offense in several Chicago suburbs and areas of Cook County patrolled by the sheriff's department.
Some 11 US states have also decriminalized possession of small amounts of pot and 18 states allow its use for medical purposes, according to the pro-marijuana group NORML.
Enforcing marijuana prohibition costs US taxpayers $10 billion and results in the arrests of 853,000 people a year, NORML said.
Cook County Commissioner John Fritchey told reporters that the proposed law makes sense.
"It is not time to act tough on crime; it is (time) to be smart on crime. We need our resources spent somewhere else," he said.