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Chicago Mayor Proposes Statewide Drug Decriminalization

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel believes state lawmakers should consider decriminalizing the possession of small amounts of controlled substances across the entire state. Earlier this week, the mayor testified before the House Senate Joint Criminal Reform Committee, in which he delivered a lengthy speech about how eliminating some of the penalties associated with low-level drug offenses could be a catalyst for reducing violent crime.

“It’s time, in my view, to free up our criminal justice system to address our real public safety challenges and build on the progress that has been made,” said Emanuel.

This, of course, has been the attitude of Mayor Emanuel since at least 2012 when he supported a measure to make possession of less than 15 grams of marijuana punishable with a fine rather than criminal penalties. It is this level of drug reform, the mayor professed to lawmakers on Tuesday night, that should be implemented throughout the state as part of overall plan to revamp the Illinois criminal code.

During the hearing, the mayor argued that police agencies across the state should be permitted to issue citations for minor drug offenses, which his administration claims results in the arrest of 7,000 people every year.

By decriminalizing controlled substances across the state of Illinois, said the mayor, we would “change, not just the criminal system, and the fact that we’ll save time and money, but it also will change people’s lives. Some who are walking around with a felony, their employment prospects, their job prospects, their lives are on a different trajectory than if they had a misdemeanor associated with them.”

Reports in The Chicago Tribune indicate that the mayor’s focus on statewide drug reform is part of his scheme to get African-American legislators on his side when he makes the push to strengthen the state’s gun laws.

“The key issue is we really want comprehensive reform, and we want to reallocate resources we’re spending now on nonviolent, low-level offenders, so we can focus more on violent crime,” a representative for the Emanuel administration official told the Tribune.

The mayor’s proposal would make Illinois the 17th state to decriminalize possession of marijuana by reducing the penalty from a felony to a misdemeanor for anyone caught holding up to a gram of any controlled substance.

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