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Lawmakers want task force to push pot legalization

Tuesday, April 29, 2014
Chicago Tribune
by Kim Geiger

Citing strains on the criminal justice system and the economic costs of enforcing anti-marijuana laws, a group of Democratic lawmakers called Monday for the creation of a task force to pursue legalizing and regulating the drug in Illinois.

Cook County Commissioner John Fritchey said he will introduce a resolution at the May 21 County Board meeting asking the General Assembly to put together such a task force. If passed, the resolution would go to the speaker of the House and the Senate president for consideration.

"This is not something that's going to happen in weeks or months, but it's something that's never going to happen unless we start to take affirmative steps now," said Fritchey, a Democrat who helped push for the decriminalization of marijuana in Chicago.

Since 2012, Chicago police have been allowed to issue tickets rather than arrest people caught with up to 15 grams of the drug.

Because it doesn't apply statewide, decriminalization has been confusing for police officers, said state Rep. Christian Mitchell, a Democrat whose district includes parts of the South Side.

"Because they're not currently backed by state law, there's kind of a question of, do I arrest this person or give them a ticket?" Mitchell said at a news conference. "As a state, clearing that up gives more leeway to the Chicago Police Department and to others who are putting people currently in the Cook County jail system."

Fritchey and Mitchell were joined by Rep. Mike Zalewski, D-Riverside, and North Side Democratic Rep. Kelly Cassidy at a news conference calling for the task force, which would be charged with studying the issue and ultimately introducing legislation to legalize and regulate the recreational use of marijuana.

The state should "make sure that we focus on who truly needs to be in our jails and prisons, and get the people that make mistakes or have a substance abuse problem into the right kind of environment," Zalewski said.



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