Cook County Board President Todd Stroger said Thursday he won't stand in the way of legislation to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana.
This week, the County Board approved a measure allowing sheriff's police to issue a $200 ticket for possessing 10 grams or less of marijuana in unincorporated parts of the county.
The ordinance took Stroger, the sheriff and others by surprise, and the board president said he was mulling a veto.
But Thursday, he told the Chicago Sun-Times he's OK with the legislation, calling it just another option for sheriff's police, who will have the discretion to arrest someone on misdemeanor charges -- particularly a repeat offender.
"I'm fine with it. It's just another tool a law enforcement [officer] can use," Stroger said.
"It's also like anything else, [officers] can also check and see the background of a person, and if they've been fined twice, they can say, 'OK you're going in.' It doesn't take their ability away from doing that," he said.
Stroger questioned the prudence of constantly sending people to jail for such offenses.
Under current state law, someone carrying more than 2.5 grams and up to 10 grams of marijuana could be arrested on a Class B misdemeanor, which carries a penalty of up to 6 months in jail. Someone carrying 2.5 grams or less could be convicted of a Class C misdemeanor, which carries a penalty of up to 30 days in jail.
But under the new county ordinance, which takes effect in two months, the person could be slapped with a ticket and walk away without a criminal conviction.
The idea was the brain child of Commissioner Earlean Collins, who said it gives kids who make a mistake -- as her grandson once did -- a second chance without spending the night in jail or getting a rap sheet.
The ordinance was passed quietly Tuesday, when the board made big news by reducing the highly controversial sales tax increase pushed through a year ago.
Sheriff's officers made 173 arrests on misdemeanor charges last year and, to date, about 150 this year -- but a small percentage of those were made in unincorporated parts of the county, said spokesman Steve Patterson. The sheriff's office didn't immediately have a breakdown of those statistics.
Five years ago, Mayor Daley embraced a similar measure for Chicago that went nowhere, but this week, the mayor ridiculed the county's pot ordinance, saying: "People say you cannot smoke. ... They said, 'Please don't smoke.' Now, everybody's saying, 'Let's all smoke marijuana.' After a while, you wonder where America is going."
Asked about the mayor's criticism, Stroger dismissed it, saying: "He's one citizen."
Asked whether he has smoked pot, Stroger said: "No, not my kind of thing."