Chicago approves tickets for small amounts of marijuana

Chicago's City Council on Wednesday passed an ordinance that allows police to ticket people found with small amounts of marijuana instead of arresting them, saying aldermen had to do something to keep officers on the street where they can combat the surging homicide rate and not be tied up for hours doing paperwork.

The 43-3 vote in favor of the ordinance, which allows officers to write a ticket for $250 to $500 for possessing as much as 15 grams of marijuana or about 15 marijuana cigarettes, was expected after a council committee voted 13-1 last week to approve the measure.

But aldermen still debated about two hours before passing the ordinance, with many saying they were not comfortable with a measure that could be seen as sending a message that they are condoning drug use. Others said they needed to act to protect an increasingly nervous city where homicides are up 38 percent this year compared to the same period last year.

"The calls I get at 2 o'clock in the morning are not about marijuana possession, they're about someone who's been shot in my ward," Alderman Will Burns said before the council voted Wednesday. "I want those calls to cease and the way we do that is to make sure our police are fighting violent crime."

Alderman Edward Burke, a former police officer, said he was concerned about what the ordinance, which goes into effect Aug. 4, would say to the city's youth. However, he said he was more troubled by the fact that only 1,000 of the 20,rhoods on the city's south and west sides would not have police officers go missing for hours at a time to do paperwork, as they do now when they arrest people for small amounts of marijuana.

He said cutting the time that officers spend making those arrests adds up to 2,500 more "police days" that officers will be on the street.

"This ordinance is going to have a definite impact on the safety of our community," Solis said.