County and city officials to call for change in pot bust policy



Cook County commissioner John Fritchey and three Chicago aldermen will hold a press conference Thursday morning to call on Chicago and suburban police to issue tickets instead of making arrests for the possession of small amounts of marijuana.

"The simple truth is that the decades-long policies that we have had toward possession of small amounts of marijuana have failed to do anything other than fill our jails with nonviolent offenders, strain our budgets, and according to some studies, even cause an increase in more serious crime," Fritchey said in a prepared statement.

Reached by phone, Fritchey alluded to the extraordinary cost of current pot policies—which Ben Joravsky and I have calculated to be at least $78 million annually—but declined to say anything else until the presser tomorrow. He'll be joined there by aldermen Walter Burnett Jr. (27th Ward), Richard Mell (33rd), and Ariel Reboyras (30th).

The vast majority of Cook County pot possession arrests occur in Chicago—about 23,000 a year, more than for any other crime.

Over the summer county board president Toni Preckwinkle called on Chicago police to stop making low-level pot busts "because you're wasting our time."

Police superintendent Garry McCarthy responded that he was considering issuing citations for low-level pot possession—but then seemed to back down, vowing that city cops would not stop making arrests for the offense.

His boss, Mayor Rahm Emanuel, has been silent on the issue. Until now, so have Chicago aldermen.

As Ben and I reported earlier this year, though studies have shown that usage rates are similar across racial and ethnic lines, blacks account for 78 percent of those arrested, 89 percent of those convicted, and 92 percent of those jailed for low-level possession in Chicago.

The pot busts cost piles of money and thousands of hours of police time, but it's not clear what the arrests accomplish. Some serious dealers often get off the hook while other possessors end up with convictions and even jail time.

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