Thursday, November 3, 2011

Are they just being practical?

I recall a moment from just over two decades ago when I was in Grant Park. It was a summer night with Michigan Avenue in the background, and I was a part of the crowd at the Blues Festival that summer.
SOLIS: More city revenue?

I couldn’t help but notice a guy about 30 feet away from me wearing a big overcoat, which struck me as being very unseasonal for summertime. He pulled out of his pockets a substance that appeared to be an illegal one.

APPARENTLY, HE DIDN’T notice the two uniformed police officers who were about five feet behind him, and who suddenly took their own interest in him.

I saw those two officers grab the guy and haul him away. All of this took a matter of seconds to occur. And it might not have been memorable to me, if not for what I saw about 10 minutes later.

It was the same guy with the overcoat. His hair was mussed up a bit, and his mood was angry. For what it turns out that the Chicago police officers did was confiscated his stash (which was a plastic baggie filled with what I believe to be marijuana) and threw it in the sewer.

Then, they let him go.

NO CHARGES. NO legal process. And for those of you who want to believe that these substances are a scourge on our society that needs to be eradicated, it had the effect of lessening the amount of drugs in circulation.

Unless someone is sorry enough to dig down into the sewer to try to get their fix. In which case, they have more serious problems in their lives than the need to get high.
EMANUEL: Not sure yet

It was this moment from the mid-1980s that came to my mind again Wednesday when I learned that the City Council is contemplating changes in its ordinances related to possession of the so-called illegal drugs.

Under the proposal now pending, possession of marijuana would no longer be a criminal offense. Nobody’s talking about legalization of such drugs (although that might be a logical alternative).

IT WOULD BECOME a ticket-able offense. Cops would literally have to whip out the ticket books and issue the citation for people caught with amounts of drugs that clearly do not make them any kind of dealers.

Those people would have to show up in court and pay a fine for their drug-induced actions.

Which might not have the same emotional satisfaction as knowing that some drug abuser had his stash dumped down the sewer. But it might be the most practical.

I remember my gut reaction from those decades ago (I was college-age back then) was part shock to see that a police officer would be willing to let someone caught with a drug go free. But it just also struck me as being sensible.

BECAUSE THIS PARTICULAR guy (I have no idea who he was, and I have never seen him since) was doing something that truly would have been a waste of the criminal justice system’s time if they had to prosecute him.

So we either allow the police to start writing out tickets and treat the “offense” for the minor act that it is. Or we start allowing our police to shake people down so they can dump the drugs in the trash. I doubt anyone would prefer the latter alternative.

I find it interesting that Mayor Rahm Emanuel himself is wavering on this issue. He says he hasn’t made up his mind about the proposal put forth by 25th Ward Alderman Danny Solis – one that calls for possession of small amounts of drugs to be punishable by fines of $200.

Solis argues that reducing the seriousness of marijuana possession would allow the existing number of police officers to focus attention on more serious crime.

YET THERE ARE those who cannot look at this issue rationally, and my guess is that Emanuel is trying to figure out how intense their outcry will be if he goes along and supports the proposed ordinance change.

For too many people want to look at this issue ideologically, rather than rationally. They want to believe that marijuana is a drug used only by certain types of people (I’m sure the phrase “hippie freaks” pops into their heads) whom they have no qualms about harassing.

Although the reality is that marijuana is a drug that cuts across social and economic classes. In fact, there are times when the social conservatives go on their diatribes that I can’t help but wonder if they’re saying such stupid things because they’re stoned!

Who’s to say?

ALL I KNOW is that the City Council’s proposal is a step in the right direction, and it’s not even an original idea. Several suburban communities already treat minor drug possession as a ticket-able offense.

So it really comes down to whether the city wants to join the ranks of other practical communities, or remain rigidly locked into the past just to please some ideologues.


No comments: