Study Shows Chicago Police Continue to Make Large Number of Arrests for Misdemeanor Marijuana Possession

marijuana arrest, Illinois criminal defense lawyer, Chicago criminal law, drug crimesThe movement towards legalization of marijuana has gained steam in recent years with successful initiatives in Colorado and Washington state permitting residents to possess a small amount of the drug for “recreational use.” But marijuana possession remains a serious crime under federal and most state laws. In Illinois, law enforcement takes illegal marijuana use quite seriously, as detailed in one recently released study.

The Illinois Consortium on Drug Policy (ICDP), a project of Roosevelt University in Chicago, recently analyzed statewide police practices with respect to arresting and ticketing persons accused of misdemeanor marijuana possession. The ICDP found widespread inconsistencies in enforcement among localities. Over 100 Illinois cities and municipalities afford police the option of ticketing, rather than arresting, for misdemeanor marijuana possession. But this has produced a “patchwork” approach to law enforcement, according to the ICDP, leading to a system where “[g]eography, not justice, determines whether marijuana possession results in a fine or arrest.”

Arresting Statistics

ICDP found that 84 percent of marijuana arrests in Illinois are for misdemeanor possession. This translates to about 41,000 arrests per year. Overall, Illinois ranks fourth among all states for marijuana possession offenses and arrests are 150 percent higher than the national average. Cook County also posted the highest number of marijuana-related arrests of any county in the United States for 2010.

There is also a troubling racial disparity in marijuana arrests. Although marijuana use is no higher among African-Americans than other racial groups, ICDP found African-Americans are “about 7.6 times more likely” to be arrested than Caucasians for marijuana possession. The disparity is even worse in Chicago and Cook County, where more than 73 percent of persons arrested for marijuana possession in 2010 were African-American.

Ticketing Alternatives

As noted above, many Illinois municipalities authorize police to issue tickets for marijuana possession as an alternative to arresting individuals. ICDP reviewed data from more than a dozen jurisdictions with such ordinances, including Cook County. These ordinances vary in the threshold level of marijuana possession subject to a ticket from 2.5 grams to as much as 30 grams. Keep in mind, however, that it is illegal to possess any quantity of marijuana for recreational use in Illinois, and it is always within a police officer’s judgment to arrest rather than ticket.

Indeed, while ticketing ordinances have reduced arrests in counties like Countryside and Champaign, ICDP found that in Chicago, police only issue one ticket for roughly every 14 people arrested. Chicago’s arrest rate after adopting a ticketing ordinance remains significantly higher than the rest of Illinois. The city’s marijuana arrest rate is nearly five times higher than any other jurisdiction studied by ICDP, and accounts for nearly half the marijuana offenses in the state.

Even a misdemeanor marijuana possession conviction can have an adverse affect on a person’s future. That is why if you are charged with any drug offense, you need the services of an experienced Illinois criminal defense attorney. Contact the Law Offices of Hal M. Garfinkel LLC, Chicago Criminal Defense Attorney today if you have any questions or concerns.

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