It looks like Chicago might be following in the footsteps of New York City and California. According to the Chicago Tribune, Mayor Rahm Emanuel has thrown his support behind an ordinance that would decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana.
Under the new law, instead of facing up to six months in jail, plus a $1,500 fine for carrying cannabis, $100-$500 tickets would be the punishment for possession of 15 grams or less.
It doesn't sound like the new tickets will carry the stigma of a misdemeanor offense either. Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy opposed the decriminalization effort earlier this month, as his experience in New York was that the lack of a criminal punishment led to more marijuana violence.
Though the financial savings of the reduced fine is important, the implications of a misdemeanor offense versus an infraction cannot be overstated. For example, those caught in the future will no longer have to check the "convicted of a crime" box on job applications.
The law was first proposed by Alderman Danny Solis last fall. At the time, Rahm was hesitant to support the law. Instead, he wanted the police department to do a "thorough analysis" of the issues.
Now, it looks like the austerity benefits are going to be too great to say no. For each of the 18,298 arrests last year, two officers were required to arrest the offender, two more had to transport the offenders, and then police staff would process the offenders. Then the jail would house them until they made bail or their case was resolved.
That's a lot of fat to be trimmed. Indeed, McCarthy, the man against the marijuana, estimates that 20,000 police hours will be freed up, saving about $1 million, plus the benefits to the overcrowded Cook County Jail.
With budget shortfalls, overcrowded jails, and insane murder rates, this sounds like it was the proper move to make for all involved.