Rahm Emanuel pushes to decriminalize marijuana

According to the Chicago Tribune, today Mayor Rahm Emanuel asked Illinois lawmakers to reform sentencing for low-level drug offenses, which most notably includes no longer arresting people caught with small amounts of marijuana.

The proposal calls for a new state law that would reduce possession of one gram or less of any controlled substance in Illinois from a felony to a misdemeanor. And this isn’t the mayor’s first time seeking leniency for marijuana related offenses. In 2012 he backed a Chicago law that allowed police to issue tickets of $250 to $500 for someone caught with 15 grams or less of pot; now he’s asking that those provisions be applied statewide.

Emanuel thinks it’s a misuse of tax dollars to harshly prosecute non-violent offenses and that his new approach would allow police to focus on more serious crimes like Chicago’s growing street violence.

“It is time to put our sentencing policies in line with our values [and] reduce penalties for nonviolent, low-level drug offenses,” he said in a statement his office released today.

“It doesn’t make sense that one arrest for a very small amount of a controlled substance can lead to a lifetime of struggles, sending people in and out of prison and putting up barriers to getting a job or finding a place to live.”

Given that he is up for re-election in February, it’s timely that the mayor is aligning himself with a growing trend of lawmakers asking to re-examine the laws around pot. There is speculation that this move could even help him out in city voting booths in 2015.

So far, sixteen states (plus the District of Columbia) have decriminalized marijuana possession, and two states have legalized retail sales, according to NORML, a group lobbying to legalize the drug.

The Emanuel administration estimates that 7,000 people are arrested each year for possession of 1 gram or less of a drug. They believe simply ticketing these people makes a lot more sense.