3:50 PM CDT, June 18, 2012
Ald. Ed Burke is not too keen on the mayor's proposal to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana, partly because because he is "very concerned with anything that gives kids the idea that this is not a bad thing to do." But Mayor Emanuel and Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle have by far the better of the argument. Treating simple pot possession as a crime is a pointless endeavor and a terrible waste of resources.
As the Sun-Times reported yesterday, Chicago cops made more than 18,000 arrests last year for possession of less than 10 grams of marijuana. Each one of these arrests demands the time of four officers. And in nine out of every 10 cases that go to court, the charges are dismissed.
Those who are kept in jail, notes Preckwinkle, cost the taxpayers $165 a day to house and feed. Police Chief Garry McCarthy says decriminalization would save his department $1 million a year -- this at a time when the city has much more pressing needs, like a surge in murders.
As for the supposedly bad message this change would send to kids, Burke might be surprised to find that in the Netherlands, where pot use is effectively legal, teen use is about half what it is in this country. Even though cigarettes and alcohol are legal for American adults, high school kids are far less likely to indulge in them than they were a generation ago.
The message kids and adults get from the criminalization of marijuana is that our leaders are deluded about its dangers and oblivious to the harms of prohibition. The message they would get from decriminalization is that we can learn from our mistakes.
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