Suburbs mixed on ticketing for pot possession
Updated: August 6, 2012 6:33AM
ELMWOOD PARK — When it comes to decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana, as Chicago did last week, Elmwood Park Mayor Peter Silvestri believes the issue needs further study.
“I’m torn by that,” he said.
Silvestri said he’s against illegal drug use, but in his position as a Cook County commissioner, he acknowledges there is a problem.
“Police departments and courts are being tied up with all of these cases and most of the judges throw them out,” he said.
He said arresting suspects for small amounts of marijuana causes congestion in the county’s court system.
“It’s something that needs to be debated — ticket or arrest?” he said. “I would welcome that debate.”
River Grove Mayor Marilynn May said if it could help reduce the burden on taxpayers by not clogging up the courthouses with low-level offenders, she’d be in favor of it.
“If that’s the case, then I’m for it, but I don’t condone drug use,” she said. “Anyway you can save taxpayers’ money, I’m for it.”
In July Cook County President Toni Preckwinkle spoke of decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana, partly because of racial disparities in arrests and partially to save money.
Northlake police write tickets for people caught with small amounts of marijuana. The city took that step about seven years ago.
“It’s a lot simpler process and more efficient,” Northlake Police Chief Dennis Koletsos said. He estimates Northlake Police issue at least 100 tickets a year for small amounts of marijuana.
“You have two officers in the booking room waiting for bond,” Koletsos said. “You have to house (offenders) for that time, provide them with food. It can tie up an officer for an entire shift.”
Issuing a ticket, in contrast, frees up Northlake officers for other duties and reduces overtime expenses.
Marijuana arrests in Chicago or other parts of the county go through the county judicial systems. That means the county gets any fines. In contrast, Northlake receives any fines from local marijuana infractions.
Likewise in Franklin Park, where police officers have the discretion to issue a local ticket to those with 10 grams or fewer of marijuana.
“Its one of the ways for us to deal with minor amounts of cannabis instead of overloading the criminal (circuit) courts of Maywood,” Police Chief Mike Witz said.
Fines range from $25 to $500 depending on the amount. Possessing more than ten grams in Franklin Park means the offender is sent to criminal court.
Franklin Park police have issued 75 citations for possessing small amounts of marijuana since the beginning of 2011, Witz said.