County board's marijuana vote makes him happy
Thursday, July 23, 2009
by Phil Kadner
It was strange to learn that James Gierach had not heard that the
Cook County Board voted Tuesday to issue the equivalent of parking
tickets to marijuana smokers.
For 20 years, the Palos Park attorney has been telling people that
all drugs should be decriminalized. He ran for Cook County state's
attorney on the issue in 1992 and for governor two years later.
"No, I had not heard that," Gierach said, when I told him the county
board had voted to give sheriff's police the option of issuing $200
tickets to people in unincorporated areas who were caught with 10 grams
or less of marijuana. "But that's good."
County board President Todd Stroger has five days to veto the
ordinance and indicated on WGN-AM (720) on Wednesday that he doesn't
like the idea.
Sheriff Tom Dart said he's trying to make up his mind what he thinks.
If it was up to Gierach, 64, all drugs would be decriminalized, including heroin and cocaine.
"The prohibition on drugs is behind almost every major problem in
this country," Gierach said. "It turns children into criminals. We take
their mothers and fathers and put them in prison, and they become
"We spend so much money on fighting drug use with police, prisons,
lawyers and courts that we don't have enough money to finance our
schools, health care or almost anything else."
Gierach is a board member of LEAP, Law Enforcement Against
Prohibition - a national organization composed of former prosecutors,
federal agents and police officers who used to put drug dealers behind
bars and now fight to decriminalize drug activity.
"Last year, more than 860,000 people were arrested on marijuana
charges, and about 90 percent of that was for possession," Gierach
said, and FBI statistics verify those figures. "We have more people in
prison than any other industrialized nation in the world, and most of
them are there on drug-related charges.
"When this country had a prohibition on alcohol, it corrupted
everything. It turned children into gangsters, and the gangsters became
organized crime. It corrupted the police departments, the politicians
and the court systems. Crime was out of control, and that's the reason
elected officials decided to end alcohol prohibition.
"The same thing's been happening with drugs, and our elected
officials don't have the guts to end it," Gierach said. "Street gangs
are killing each other in turf wars over drugs. Terrorists are
financing their organizations through drug sales in this country.
"And we rely on drug money now to finance our police departments
because we don't have the tax money to do the job. In Palos Heights,
they built a new police station with their share of the proceeds from
illegal drug operations."
I verified that with the Palos Heights police chief. In 2000, the
suburb built a police headquarters for about $3.5 million with its
share of proceeds confiscated from drug operations. Over 20 years, the
city's police department has received about $5.5 million from the
seizure and sale of homes, cars and businesses of drug dealers.
The mayor of Evergreen Park recently told me his police department buys new vehicles with the drug money.
Many years ago, former newspaper columnists Mike Royko and William Buckley each suggested regulating and taxing marijuana.
Gierach doesn't think that's right.
"I'm against drug use," he said. "Some people don't understand that.
And I don't think government should benefit from drug use. Sin taxes
never end. They just keep going up, and government ends up relying on
them too much.
"But I do think government should regulate the drug industry. They
should determine who can sell the drugs, how the drugs get made, what
can be in them. Right now, the drug dealers can cut the drugs with
anything. No one knows what the drug is that they are injecting in
The new Cook County law would give sheriff's police the option of
charging someone with a misdemeanor if they have a small amount of
marijuana or giving them a ticket. There would be no criminal record if
a person paid the ticket.
"One of these days, I'm convinced the government will repeal the
prohibition on drugs," Gierach said. "It has to happen. It's costing us
to much, in money and human lives, to allow the situation to continue.
Our drug policy is destroying the nation.
"You know who likes prohibition? Al Capone liked prohibition. (Colombian drug lord) Pablo Escobar loved prohibition.
"The criminals and the politicians are on the same side. So who are the good guys and who are the bad guys?
"They said I was goofy back in 1992. They called me all kinds of names.
"But I'm on the right side on this one."
Phil Kadner can be reached at email@example.com or (708) 633-6787.