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Cook County going to pot
COUNTY BOARD | Users may get just a ticket in some areas

Wednesday, July 22, 2009
Chicago Sun-Times
by Lisa Donovan

If you’re busted carrying a small amount of marijuana in portions of Cook County patrolled by the sheriff’s police, you may get off with just a ticket.

In a move that caught the sheriff’s office off guard, the county board on Tuesday voted to decriminalize possession of less than 10 grams of pot in unincorporated areas of Cook County. Those are the parts of the county not claimed by Chicago or its suburbs.

The measure, which needs to be approved by Board President Todd Stroger to take effect, gives sheriff’s police and sheriff’s deputies patrolling the unincorporated areas the latitude to arrest a suspect on a misdemeanor charge or, under the new ordinance, hit them with a $200 ticket if they’re carrying 10 grams or less.

Leading the charge was Cmsr. Earlean Collins, a Democrat who admitted her grandson was busted for carrying a small amount of marijuana. She said arrests like that clog the jails.

“They got my grandson...he had a half of joint in the car,” Collins said. “They stopped him. They took him to the police station. They impounded his car and let him out the next morning. Why do that?

“A lot of kids make a mistake, have a little marijuana, and they can avoid going to jail or court.”

A spokesman for Sheriff Tom Dart, whose deputies and officers would administer the law, said the sheriff’s office was caught off guard by the timing of the vote.

Spokesman Steve Patterson said the sheriff was expecting a series of public hearings before a vote.

Instead, the vote was taken on the same day the county board voted to scale back last year’s controversial sales tax hike.

“We’d like there to be some discussion on it before it takes effect,” Patterson said.

If Stroger signs the ordinance, it would take effect in 60 days. Stroger said he wasn’t sure if he’ll sign or veto it.

“I don’t know,” Stroger told CBS2. “I wasn’t paying enough attention to it. I’ll find out about it later. I can’t comment on it.”

The ticket option also means a bust won’t result in a criminal record. It was unclear, however, what might happen to repeat offenders.

Collins said an administrative procedure would be available to those who want to fight a ticket.

Commissioner Gregg Goslin, a Republican who voted against the measure, said any laws to decriminalize pot should be done by the state.

“You can’t have a patchwork quilt of law in every county. That law should be voted on at the state level,” Goslin said.

“It gives too much discretion to police officers. It’s either against the law or it’s not. You need to have one standard.

“I think it was as the wrong thing to do.”

Nearly five years ago, Mayor Daley embraced a police sergeant’s proposal to ticket people for small amounts of marijuana — from $250 for 10 grams of pot to $1,000 for 20 to 30 grams — but the plan never got off the ground.

“It’s decriminalized now,” Daley said at the time. “They throw all the cases out. It doesn’t mean anything. You just show up to court. Another case goes out. That's all it is. There's nothing there. They don’t even show up — the offenders. It doesn’t mean anything.”

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