Policing The Pot Patrol
Police Sgt. Thomas Donegan was in court one day last January awaiting the appearance of two men he had arrested for possession of marijuana. Neither man showed up. A warrant was issued for one, but the other’s case was dismissed.
That was typical. The people who are arrested on misdemeanor charges of possession of less than 30 grams of pot routinely are not prosecuted. The reasons vary: Cops don’t show up in court, there are problems with the evidence or the arrest, judges or prosecutors don’t think the case is worth pursuing.
Donegan collected some statistics to present to Police Supt. Philip Cline.
Last year, Chicago police arrested more than 20,000 people for misdemeanor possession of less than 30 grams of marijuana. According to Donegan’s numbers: 94 percent of the cases that involved less than 2 1/2 grams were dropped, 81 percent of the cases that involved 2 1/2 to 10 grams were dropped, and 52 percent of the cases that involved 10 to 30 grams were dropped.
So what’s the point of making an arrest?
This Chicago cop believes the city would be better off making possession of small amounts of marijuana a violation of city ordinance, punishable by a fine, rather than going through the charade of criminal prosecution with the empty threat of jail time.
Mayor Richard Daley agrees. “If 99 percent of the cases are thrown out and we have police officers going [to court], why?” the mayor said Wednesday. “It costs you a lot of money for police officers to go to court.” Cook County State’s Atty. Richard Devine’s office will meet with police to discuss this proposal.
The idea has a lot of merit. It offers a proportional response to the illegal use of marijuana, and it carries the prospect of genuine punishment. If you were caught with a small amount of marijuana, you would get a ticket. Those who are guilty would have to pay. Donegan recommends fines of $250, $500 and $1,000 for the three categories of possession.
That would free up the police, prosecutors and judges for far more important criminal matters. It would bring some much-needed revenue to the city. It would bring some common sense to drug policy.