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Chicago police arresting for pot despite ordinance

Published: Monday, May 19, 2014 12:03 p.m. CDT

CHICAGO — Chicago police are still arresting the vast majority of people caught with small amounts of marijuana despite a city ordinance that allows them to write tickets and send offenders on their way, according to a new study.

About 93 percent of misdemeanor marijuana possession violations resulted in arrest in the city in 2013, the first full year the ordinance was in effect after being passed in 2012, according to Roosevelt University's Illinois Consortium on Drug Policy.

Police spokesman Adam Collins suggested to the Chicago Sun-Times that the percentage of people receiving tickets instead of being arrested would climb in the future.

"Like any new process, it has taken time to implement the ordinance, and we believe there's certainly much more work to be done on full implementation," he wrote in an email to the newspaper. He also noted that there were nearly "5,000 fewer people arrested for low-level cannabis possession in 2013 than in 2011."

When the ordinance was first passed, supporters — including Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy — touted it as a key component of a crime fighting strategy. They said it would enable officers to issue tickets and stay on the street rather than go through the time-consuming process of hauling people to jail.

But researchers found not only that few tickets were being issued, but that the percentage of arrests did not fall as much as in other cities where similar ordinances have been enacted. For example, in nearby Evanston, the number of arrests for small amounts of marijuana fell by almost 50 percent — more than twice as much as the 21 percent drop in Chicago.

"Where the rubber hits the road is the practice, and there's a really big disconnect between the policy and the practice," said Kathie Kane-Willis, the director of the consortium.

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