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Chicago to issue tickets for possessing small amounts of pot

CHICAGO -- The Chicago City Council Wednesday voted 43-3 to approve a new city pot policy. 

The ordinance gives police the option to issue a ticket for possession of 15 grams of marijuana or less. Arrests would still be mandated for anyone caught smoking pot in public or possessing marijuana in or near a school or in or near a park. The new rules go into effect Aug. 4. 

Ald. Danny Solis (25th), who introduced the proposal last fall, called it a "monumental ordinance" that will have "a definite impact."  

"I don't have any problem with people arresting somebody as far as a crime," Solis said, "but when this arrest basically turns out to be where nothing happens ... I have to seriously look at what we're doing."

Supporters of the ordinance, including Mayor Rahm Emanuel, said issuing tickets frees up cops for more serious crime and ultimately will save the police department about $1 million.

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"This is about being efficient and realistic," said Ald. John Pope (10th).

"This isn't decriminalization, Mr. President," said Ald. Ed Burke (14th). "It is re-criminalization ... a more intelligent and effective way of addressing a problem."

Opponents of the plan said it does nothing to prevent Chicago's drug and gangs problems.

Ald. Nick Sposato (36th) told the council he thinks 15 grams is too high of a threshold, calling it a "significant amount of marijuana." Sposato said it sends the wrong message to children.

Ald. Roberto Maldonado (26th) said that as the father of three young children, he fears the ordinance will spike marijuana use. He said he doesn't want his kids growing up thinking marijuana use is as bad as running a stop sign.

Under the plan, anyone caught with pot under the age of 17 or without proper identification would still be arrested. Tickets would range from $250 to $500. A portion of that money, Emanuel said, would be earmarked for an anti-drug campaign aimed at kids.

The mayor's office noted 45,000-plus police hours were used last year in 18,298 arrests for possession of less than 10 grams of cannabis. Each case needed four officers to arrest and transport offenders, according to police statistics.

Emanuel said since fewer cops are needed to issue a ticket than make an arrest, decriminalizing possession of small amounts of pot puts more officers on the streets.

Ald. Bob Fioretti (2nd) offered tepid support and said he wants the ordinace revisited in 90 days, six months and one year to measure its effectiveness in reducing violent crime.

"We need more police on the streets," Fioretti said. "We need them now. Let's find the revenue." 

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