By Phillip Smith
Even as Chicago ponders whether to decriminalize pot possession, one of its suburbs has gone ahead and done it. The city of Evanston Monday night passed its 2012 budget, complete with an ordinance that decriminalizes the possession of less than 10 grams of marijuana.
People caught with fewer than 10 grams would be ticketed and fined, but would face no jail time and no criminal record. Up until now, they would have been charged with a misdemeanor and faced up to six months in jail.
City council members and Evanston Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl said that decriminalization would prevent young people from being burdened with a criminal record and would free up police and prosecutorial resources in the revenue-strapped town.
"There is a high amount of paperwork and time that is spent going to court," Alderwoman Melissa Wynne told the Daily Northwestern. "It's not just the arrest, but then the processing and follow-through that takes a lot of time."
"A one-time violation by someone with that level of possession could be a teenager or someone in college," said Alderman Donald Wilson. "I wouldn't want to see people suffer the long-term consequences of something that might just be short-term misconduct."
Alderman Peter Braithwaite cited a higher rate of marijuana arrests among black youths in the city in explaining his support for decriminalization. "I'm definitely very concerned about the number of black teens who end up in the criminal justice system and how that affects their futures and abilities to get jobs later in life," he said.
Marijuana law reform is definitely in the air in the Chicago area. The Cook County Board of Commissioners okayed decriminalization in unincorporated areas of the county in 2009 and then expanded that remit to include all jurisdictions in the county that don't have their own police forces. The suburban city of Skokie recently decriminalized possession of less than 10 grams for teenagers, and the city of Chicago is currently considering a decriminalization move.