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Cook County decriminalizes small amounts of marijuana

Wednesday, July 22, 2009
Daily Herald
by Robert McCoppin

Possession of small amounts of marijuana in unincorporated Cook County could be penalized like a traffic ticket rather than prosecuted criminally, under a measure approved by the county board Tuesday.

The ordinance would give police officers the discretion of charging the violation as a crime under state law and taking the offender to jail, as currently done, or writing a ticket for a $200 fine and letting the offender go free.

The measure would apply to 10 grams of cannabis, which is about one third of an ounce, or less. It was sponsored by Commissioner Earlean Collins, a Chicago Democrat, who said it would most likely apply to young people with one cigarette or "joint" for personal use.

The ordinance passed 12-3, with Commissioners Greg Goslin of Glenview, Timothy Schneider of Bartlett, and Jerry "The Iceman" Butler voting against it.

Butler opposed it because he said it gives the officer too much discretion to discriminate.

The ordinance would take effect in 60 days, to give police time to become familiar with it, prepare the tickets, and set up dates with the county's new administrative hearing system in Chicago. The system also hears traffic, parking and building citations, said Patrick Driscoll, chief of the state's attorney's civil actions bureau.

The county would get the revenue, which would have generated $35,000 on 177 violations last year.

Driscoll was not aware of any similar laws in Illinois, but said he believes other local jurisdictions have passed similar laws.

Collins said she hopes to extend the law countywide, though sheriff's deputies don't typically patrol in municipalities or forest preserves, which have their own police.

Steve Patterson, a spokesman for Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart, said his office would enforce the law, but would have liked more time to discuss it.

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