May 29, 2014

Chicago PD ignoring Marijuana Decriminalization Law

May 29, 2014. Chicago. Thanks to the Chicago Police Department, the state of Illinois has earned another dubious title - the least friendly state in the nation for marijuana smokers. A new study published by Roosevelt University examined the state’s pot arrests over 2013 and found that despite Chicago having decriminalized marijuana possession in 2012, police are ignoring the law and arresting practically everyone.

Image/chart courtesy of the Chicago Reader

Critics of Chicago’s City Hall and Police Department, who far outnumber their supporters these days, humorously suggest they’ve discovered why Chicago is the murder capital of the nation. It’s because Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Police Chief Gerry McCarthy are more obsessed with imprisoning harmless adults for possession of $3 in marijuana than in imprisoning the city’s murderers. When the decriminalization law was passed in 2012, it was touted as a way for the Chicago Police to have double the amount of time to fight real crime. Instead, the police have spent the past two years arresting and fruitlessly prosecuting regular citizens for possessing small amounts of weed.

Roosevelt University Report

The report detailing Illinois’ 2013 marijuana arrests was compiled by the Roosevelt University Consortium on Drug Policy. Researchers looked at how local municipalities like Chicago have adapted to their city’s new laws decriminalizing possession of small amounts of marijuana. The Chicago law, for instance, gives CPD officers the right to basically do whatever they want. Officers can dispose of the small amount of marijuana and let the offender go. They can write a simple ticket to the person, which is what the 2012 law intended. Or the officers can continue the failed policy of arresting and criminally charging people.

According to the researchers, Chicago Police officers chose to criminally arrest 93 percent of those they found in possession of minor amounts of marijuana in 2013. That basically means City Hall and the police force are thumbing their noses at the Chicago City Council, the residents of the city and their pot decriminalization law. The result, according to the report, is that, ‘Illinois is one of the least friendly places in the nation for those caught possessing small amounts of marijuana.’

Protecting drug dealers?

Perhaps the most shocking revelation from the Roosevelt University report is that Chicago leads the nation in one never-reported statistic - the ratio between marijuana ‘possession’ arrests and marijuana ‘distribution’ arrests. Chicago leads the nation in arresting average citizens for possession of pot, while at the same time leaving the drug dealers and traffickers alone. That’s a very insightful statistic coming from one of the most tarnished police forces in the country.

‘Illinois ranked fifth in the nation for the number of marijuana arrests made in 2010, and the state ranked first in the country for its high proportion of marijuana possession arrests vs. marijuana sales/distribution arrests,’ the report confirmed. Critics of Mayor Emanuel and his Police Department will surely raise the issue again if he runs for re-election in 2015. Emanuel’s approval rating is currently sitting at a dismal 29% according to the latest polls.

“The state is failing when it comes to marijuana policy, particularly when considering that a majority of Illinois residents support ticketing for people who have small amounts of marijuana,” Kathleen Kane-Willis, lead researcher in the study, concluded. The findings also point the finger at the Illinois Legislature for its failure to address the subject.

Chaos in Illinois

According to the researchers, it’s the absence of a statewide law regarding possession of small amounts of marijuana. For their part, IL House Speaker Michael Madigan and IL Senate President John Cullerton have kept with the extremely unpopular zero-tolerance marijuana police of fellow Chicago Democratic Machine leaders President Obama and Mayor Emanuel. Together, their staunch opposition to any marijuana reform and the wishes of the overwhelming majority of their constituents has led more than 100 towns and cities across Illinois to enact their own pot decriminalization laws.

One of those cities was Chicago in 2012. But as the Roosevelt University study proves, as long as local police officers have the legal power to do literally whatever they want, they’re going to keep arresting harmless citizens with as little as $2 in marijuana while ignoring the drug cartels and street gangs. Why? That’s a good question.

The report also took issue with Cook County and other police departments across Illinois for their insistence on arresting people in possession of marijuana rather than simply ticketing them. According to the statistics, Cook County leads all counties in America in criminal marijuana arrests. ‘The city’s high rate of arrest also is believed to be a chief driver behind data that show Cook County leading the nation, with the most arrests for pot possession, of any US county,’ the report reads, ‘Cook’s arrest rate also was more than double the rate of arrest for marijuana possession in the United States as a whole.’

Other Illinois cities

Chicago police aren’t alone across the state in ignoring marijuana decriminalization laws. The researchers point to the town of Aurora in Chicago’s western suburbs as a prime example. The city passed a marijuana ticketing law in 2008. But its police force has never issued a single ticket, opting instead for full criminal arrest and prosecution.

For those interested in how the states varying University police departments are handling students and their local pot decriminalization laws, the report says it varies widely, but wealthy college kids are treated more leniently than their poorer counterparts. In the Chicago suburb of Evanston where Northwestern University is located, and downstate Champaign where the University of Illinois is, the report specifically cites their police departments as being some of the most lenient and willing to issue marijuana tickets over arrests.

According to other findings in the study, poor people and black people are the most often arrested for marijuana rather than being issued a ticket in Chicago, Cook County and Illinois. All three are at or near the worst in the nation regarding the disparity of arrests versus tickets when race and wealth is incorporated.

‘In terms of racial disparity in arrests, Illinois ranks third in the nation,’ the Roosevelt University report finds, ‘In Illinois, African Americans were found to be about 7.6 times more likely than whites to be arrested on marijuana possession charges. Cook County, in particular, had one of the highest racial disparities in pot-possession arrests in the nation.’ As far as economic factors go, the results were even more condemning.

“When you are talking about a rate of arrest that is 150-times higher in a Chicago neighborhood like East Garfield Park, as compared to Edison Park, for example, you have to conclude that the system is fundamentally flawed,” the study’s lead author Kane-Willis concluded. For readers not familiar, Garfield Park is a poverty-stricken black neighborhood on the city’s west side, while Edison Park is all white and one of the richest neighborhoods in the city. It’s also where all the government employees live.

To view the full report, visit Roosevelt University.


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