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Chicago Decriminalizes Pot

Starting in August, anyone caught with small amounts of marijuana will face a fine rather than an arrest.

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By Chrisanne Grise

06/27/12

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The Chicago City Council overwhelmingly voted to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana today, in an effort to save money, raise revenue for the city and allow police forces to focus on more serious crimes. Under the new law—which passed 43-3 and is backed by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel—anyone 18 years or older caught with about 15 grams or less of marijuana will receive a $250-$500 fine rather than an arrest, provided they have proper ID and aren't wanted for another crime. Under current law, anyone found a quantity of marijuana under one ounce can be charged with a misdemeanor, and could face up to a year in prison and a $2,500 fine. The Windy City has seen a 37% increase in its murder rate this year, so freeing up police officers is especially important. "Yes, marijuana is still bad. There's no way I can condone it," says Alderman Danny Solis, who sponsored the proposal. "But I know that we're going to have these police officers in these violent neighborhoods. And hopefully, that extra police man-hours will be helping to save lives of young men and women." Over a dozen states and several large US cities, including Seattle, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, have taken similar steps to reduce pot penalties. Opponents of decriminalization say it gives kids the message that smoking pot is OK, but supporters promise that the city will not become a drug haven under the new rules, which kick in August 4th. "If somebody thinks that they're going to get a free pass in Chicago," warns Alderman Ed Burke, "that they can stroll down Michigan Avenue smoking dope—that's not the case."

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