Pubdate: Thu, 28 Jul 2011
Source: Chicago Sun-Times (IL)
Copyright: 2011 Sun-Times Media, LLC


If you thumb through her reports and position papers, you'll see that
Toni Preckwinkle has long been talking about pulling the plug on the
drug war, at least as it applies to low-level, nonviolent users.

And now the Cook County Board president, to her credit, is backing up
those words with action.

This week, she asked Chicago Police Supt. Garry McCarthy to stop
making arrests for low-level marijuana possession.

Preckwinkle long has had her eye on the $142 a day it costs taxpayers
for each inmate housed at the County Jail, which has an average daily
adult population of about 9,000. The cost of incarcerating those
prisoners is a big part of the county's $1.2 billion 2011 public
safety budget.

Let's get honest about this, Preckwinkle says. Judges generally
dismiss charges against those accused of possessing small amounts of
illicit drugs, but only after the county has paid for jail stays of up
to 21 days.

That's a big unnecessary expense, even apart from the unpleasant
impact a turn behind bars has for people who are convicted of nothing.

"I suggested to [McCarthy] that although the law is pretty clear that
such possession is a violation of the law, that since the judges
routinely and almost universally dismiss such low-level drug charges
that the police might stop arresting people for this since it clogs up
our jail and these people, their cases will be dismissed out anyway,"
Preckwinkle said.

Instead of all that expensive jail time, Preckwinkle wants to expand
deferral programs to keep people, most of whom come from Chicago, out
of the jail.

In the 40 years since former President Richard Nixon launched
America's war on drugs, we have filled our prisons with nonviolent
drug offenders. The result mostly has been wasted young lives and big
bills for the taxpayers, even as the consumption of opiates, cocaine
and marijuana has increased worldwide.

Cook County already has a 2-year-old ordinance that allows sheriff's
police to issue a $200 ticket for possessing 10 grams or less of
marijuana in unincorporated parts of the county instead of making an
arrest, but no tickets have been issue because officials still are
tweaking the language in the law.

Cook County should finish tweaking the law, and Chicago and suburban
police departments should enlist in Preckwinkle's effort to bring a
little more sense to society's drugs policies. 
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