Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel called on Illinois lawmakers Tuesday to decriminalize marijuana throughout the state as well as lessen the penalties for possession of a gram or less of other controlled substances.
Speaking before the House-Senate Joint Criminal Reform Committee in Springfield, according to The Huffington Post, Emanuel suggested marijuana decriminalization and reduced penalties for possession of small amounts of other drugs as ways for the state to ease overcrowding in its prisons. The committee also intends to address racial disparities in the Illinois' criminal justice system that disproportionately affect blacks and Latinos.
"It doesn't make sense that one arrest for a very small amount of a controlled substance can lead to a lifetime of struggles, sending people in and out of prison and putting up barriers to get a job or finding a place to live. We need action from Springfield."
Emanuel's suggestion to decriminalize marijuana in Illinois would make the possession of 15 grams or less of marijuana a ticketable offense, rather than a crime, throughout the state, according to Reuters. It would also make the possession of a gram or less of other drugs, such as crack cocaine or methamphetamines, a misdemeanor rather than a felony.
Two years ago, Chicago passed a similar law that would give police discretion in arresting for marijuana offenses, offering them the chance to issue a ticket (ranging from $250 to $500) for possession of less than 15 grams of marijuana. By all accounts, according to The Huffington Post, Chicago's attempt at decriminalization has been a failure; arrests for marijuana possession in Chicago actually increased since the program, and the city managed to collect roughly a fifth of the over $300,000 in fines.
Emanuel suggests that reducing penalties for marijuana and other controlled substances would give police opportunity to focus on street crime instead of petty drug offenses. Chicago's murder rates are consistently among the highest in the nation, according to the Christian Science Monitor.
"It is time to put our sentencing policies in line with our values, reduce penalties for nonviolent, low-level drug offenses so we don't put people in prison who need drug treatment."
Several cities, independently of their state governments, have also decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana, most recently Philadelphia, according to this Inquisitr report. If Illinois adopts any of the Chicago mayor's suggestions to decriminalize pot, it would make Illinois the 17th state to do so, according to Christian Science Monitor.
[Image courtesy of: Fox News Latino]