PUBLISHED: 20:58 EST, 27 June 2012 | UPDATED: 20:58 EST, 27 June 2012
The Chicago City Council overwhelmingly approved a groundbreaking ordinance to replace arrests for possession of small amounts of marijuana with fines in an effort to free up the city’s police officers.
Under the new policy, which was passed 43-3 on Wednesday, officers will have an option to issue tickets ranging from $250 to $500 for possession of 15 grams of marijuana or less.
Currently, the punishment for small amounts of marijuana is a misdemeanor charge punishable by up to six months in jail, and a fine of up to $1,500, according to CBS Chicago.
Fire it up! The Chicago City Council voted 43-3 to replace arrests for possession of 15 grams of less of pot with fines
Arrests would still be mandated for anyone caught smoking pot in public or possessing marijuana in or less than 1,000 feet away from a school or park.
Minors under the age of 17 and people without proper identification busted with marijuana in their possession will also be sent to jail. The new rules go into effect August 4.
Alderman Danny Solis, who introduced the controversial measure last November, called it a ‘monumental ordinance’ that will have ‘a definite impact,’ MSNBC reported.
Supporters of the new pot policy, including Mayor Rahm Emanuel, said issuing tickets instead of arresting minor drug offenders frees up cops for more serious crime and ultimately will save the police department about $1million.
Caveat: Under the new policy, anyone caught puffing on a joint in public or near a school or park will still be arrested
A portion of the money collected in fines, Mayor Emanuel said, would go toward an anti-drug campaign aimed at city kids.
The mayor’s office said that more than 45,000 police hours were used last year in 18,298 arrests for possession of less than ten grams of cannabis, according to NBC Chicago.
Each case required four officers to arrest and transport offenders, according to police statistics.
‘I don’t want to be paying a police officer time and a half to sit in a courtroom for four hours on something that 80 to 90 per cent of the time will be thrown out, and everybody – both the person arrested, the police officer, and the judge – know the outcome,’ Emanuel said.
Frugal: Supporters of the ordinance said it will save the police department about $1million
Forward-thinking: Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel (left) supported the new pot policy, saying that it will free up police officers to deal with more serious crimes
‘I want them on the street, dealing with gangbangers and gun violence.’
However, critics of the measure said decriminalizing drug possession sends the wrong message in a city plagued by drugs and gangs.
Alderman Roberto Maldonado, who was among the three City Council members who voted against the policy, said that as the father of three young children, he fears the ordinance will spike marijuana use since 15 grams of cannabis is enough to roll as many as 30 joints.
He said he doesn’t want his kids growing up thinking marijuana use is as bad as running a stop sign, CBS Chicago reported.
‘There will be individuals – many of them, sadly – who will misinterpret this law that we’ve passed today, that it will be okay also to smoke it,’Moldanado said.
Critic: Alderman Roberto Moldanado voted against the policy, saying that it sends the wrong message amid a wave of drug abuse and gang violence
Alderman Edward Burke, who initially questioned the merits of the new ordinance, came out in favor of the move on Wednesday.
‘This is not a decriminalization, it’s a re-criminalization; a more intelligent and effective way of addressing a problem,’ Burke said.
He also expressed hope that the new policy will help address the problem of racial bias in enforcement of existing drug laws.
Reformer: New york Governor Andrew Cuomo asked legislators to decriminalize possession of small amounts of pot in public view
Of the approximately 20,000 arrests for marijuana possession last year, Burk said, citing police statistics, about 16,000 of them were African-American.
Alderman Joe Moore said: ‘African-Americans account for 78 per cent of those arrested, 89 per cent of those convicted, and 92 per cent of those jailed for low-level marijuana possession. That is simply criminal.’
Chicago police officers are expected to undergo training on the new policy in the next two weeks.
Wednesday’s vote comes just weeks after Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee signed a similar measure into law, allowing law enforcement to issue fines for possession of small amounts of pot, according to CNN.
Also in June, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo asked legislators to decriminalize small-time possession in public view.
Saying the aim was to avoid unnecessary misdemeanor charges against thousands of New Yorkers — ‘disproportionately black and Hispanic youth’ — the proposed legislation ‘brings consistency and fairness’ to New York’s marijuana laws, the governor’s office said.
In 1977, New York’s Legislature reduced the penalty for possessing 25 grams or less of marijuana to a noncriminal violation carrying a fine of no more than $100 for first-time offenders — as long as the marijuana was in private possession and not in public view.