Saturday, July 25, 2009

Some people don’t want to think rationally when it comes to marijuana

No. It’s not true, no matter what the political opposition says.

Cook County Board President Todd Stroger did not vote to legalize marijuana. Nor did he do anything that ought to be thought of as radical in any way, except by people who are determined to demonize the “Sixties” and anything they associate with the so-called “radical left.”

AT STAKE IS the fact that the Cook County Board this week slipped in a measure that caught people off-guard. They voted to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana.

By small amounts, we’re talking less than 10 grams, which can be enough to produce a couple of those crudely-rolled homemade cigarettes stuffed with pot.

Now, when the Sheriff’s police patrols the unincorporated portions of Cook County, if they stumble across some people getting stoned while sitting out in an open area, they will whip out the ticket books and write up an ordinance violation – rather than pulling out the handcuffs so that someone can be hauled off to a sheriff’s office to be processed, then released on an individual recognizance bond (no cash posted).

Yes, a ticket. Just like when one gets pulled over for a traffic stop. Assuming the motorist doesn’t do something stupid to tick off a cop during the arrest, it results in a ticket and the motorist gets to drive away – with the heavily encouraged option of not even showing up in court.

THE MUNICIPALITIES WOULD rather you just pay the fine, so they can have the money and you could be on your way.

That is what small-scale pot busts will become. Just pay the fine.

This measure came about because of county Commissioner Earlean Collins, who says her grandson recently got arrested for possessing a small quantity of marijuana. She thinks his criminal charge is a waste of the court system’s time.

Stroger initially hinted he would use his “veto” power to kill Collins’ proposal, but he decided Friday to let it become county law. Even Gov. Pat Quinn doesn’t seem to have much of a problem with this change, although Mayor Richard M. Daley insisted on tossing out some trash talk about how people ban tobacco smoking – but are willing to accept pot.

WHEN I FIRST learned of Collins’ proposal, which was initially overshadowed by the County Board’s approval of a reduction in the sales tax and by actions related to Burr Oak Cemetery in Alsip, I was not overwhelmed with interest.

The fact is that the 10-gram standard that the sheriff’s police will now adopt is typical of what is used in many municipalities, which have decided that pot busts of a small scale are not worth clogging up the court systems.

Several towns already have their police issue tickets for such small quantities. They want the fines to help bolster their municipal budgets.

So in a sense, it is about time that the Cook County Board “got with the program,” so to speak, and adopted a similar standard.

DOES IT REALLY make sense that someone smoking a marijuana cigarette in an open area next to a suburban town should face a criminal charge, while if he had done the same thing in the suburban town just a few hundred feet away, he’d just face a $200 ticket.

There literally is the situation of south suburban Lansing, which earlier this summer voted to decriminalize possession of drug paraphernalia. They did that with the support of the Police Department because they already had the 10-gram standard for possession of the drug itself.

It literally was a case where possession of the drug was a ticket-able offense, while possession of the papers to roll the cigarettes with was a crime (albeit a misdemeanor).

Now for those people who want to get all moralistic and claim that we are somehow giving support to drug dealers, that’s ridiculous.

BECAUSE THE SIMPLE fact is that the tickets are only applicable to the people with such small quantities of the drug that there’s no way they could possibly be selling the drug.

People with more than 10 grams would still face criminal charges, and people with the large quantities that it is clear they were trying to feed off the money that can be made off of illicit drugs.

Nobody is showing anything resembling compassion toward drug dealers.

Those people are still going to be the focus of law enforcement investigations and over-inflated drug busts that are meant to create the impression that “The Law” is being enforced.

POLICE MAY EVEN be able to start focusing more attention on such drug busts, on account of the fact that the General Assembly this year voted to approve what had previously been considered illegal gambling.

Video poker. No longer will the Sheriff’s police be able to burst into a tavern with axes in hand smashing those games that by no means were being played solely for entertainment places.

So what’s the bottom line here? Not only is Cook County getting in line with the way many municipalities are enforcing the law, there’s also the fact that video poker and small drug busts will no longer preoccupy the county sheriff’s time.

Perhaps that means Sheriff Tom Dart can focus his attention on significant crime. What a “radical” concept.


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