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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 unemployable.

"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 their arm."

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 or (708) 633-6787.

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