Chicago Police Making More Arrests for Pot Than Issuing Fines

By Paul Gaita 05/21/14

Despite weed being decriminalized in the Windy City, cops are arresting more people on marijuana charges, especially in urban areas.

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The city of Chicago decriminalized small amounts of marijuana in 2012, but a recent study shows that the city’s police are more likely to arrest marijuana offenders than issue a ticket.

The study, issued on May 19 by Roosevelt University’s Illinois Consortium on Drug Policy, showed that only seven percent of the misdemeanor marijuana violations – constituting up to 15 grams - recorded by Chicago police in 2013 resulted in a ticket between $250 and $500, which was the system implemented by the Chicago City Council. The remaining 93 percent of incidents resulted in the offender’s arrest. When compared with arrest patterns throughout Illinois, Chicago had the lowest decrease of marijuana arrests of any municipality in the state at 23 percent. The city’s arrest rate is also a staggering 230 percent higher than the national rate.

The study also highlighted the growing disparity in arrest rates among various counties and even neighborhoods. Because there is no single, unifying policy regarding marijuana enforcement for all of Illinois’ municipalities, the rates of arrests and tickets vary greatly from region to region; individuals in suburban regions like Evanston, Countryside or Champaign are more likely to receive a ticket, while offenders in Chicago and other urbanized areas will most likely be placed under arrest. In certain sections of Chicago, most notably the city’s notorious South and West sides, arrest rates are seven times higher than that of the city as a whole.

Adam Collins, a spokesperson for the Chicago Police Department, said that progress is being made in fully implementing the city’s ordinance, and noted that there have been approximately 5,000 fewer arrests for low-level marijuana possession in 2013 than were recorded in 2011. He added, “Like any new process, it has taken time to implement the ordinance, and we believe there’s much more work to be done on full implementation.”

But Kathleen Kane-Willis, the lead author of the study, took a dim view of the drop in arrest rates. “[The decrease] is not a win,” she stated. “I wouldn’t give our city or state a passing grade.”

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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites.