Chicago mayor: Tickets, not jail, for pot users

By NBC News and staff

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel explained publicly for the first time Tuesday why he is throwing his support behind a controversial proposal that would give police officers the option to ticket, rather than  arrest, people for having small amounts of marijuana.

“It’s not decriminalization. It’s dealing with it in a different way and a different penalty,” Emanuel said Tuesday at an unrelated press conference.

The mayor last week issued a statement announcing his backing for the proposal introduced last fall by Alderman Danny Solis.

He said he changed his stance on the matter after his administration analyzed the amount of police time used to chase and prosecute suspected users, especially given that many of the cases are thrown out in court.

“I got comfortable with this because I think this is the right thing to   do for a number of reasons. It does not undermine what we’re trying to   do on fighting crime,” Emanuel said, according to the Chicago Tribune.

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People currently found to possess  small amounts of marijuana face a  misdemeanor charge punishable by up  to six months in jail and a $1,500  fine. The proposal stipulates police officers would have the option to write tickets with fines ranging from $100 to $500 for people carrying  15 grams or less of marijuana, according to the Chicago Tribune.

Emanual also announced he had amended the proposal so that a portion of any revenue collected would be earmarked for an anti-drug campaign aimed at kids.

“I  want to make sure our children get  a clear and unambiguous message as  it relates to drug use: it is wrong  and it is dangerous,” the mayor  said.

A majority of Chicago aldermen signed on to the proposed ordinance, the Chicago Tribune reported.

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle has long endorsed a change to the area’s pot policies. Police Supt. Garry McCarthy’s support of the idea has been tepid.

Some aldermen worry about how police officers will apply the discretion they would be granted, the Chicago Tribune reported. Alderman Ed Burke said Monday he needs more information before deciding whether he’ll support the proposal.

The mayor said the move would free up police resources and save the city about $1 million.

The plan will be considered Thursday by the Committee on Public Safety, the Chicago Tribune reported, before it goes before the full council on June 27. contributed to this report.

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