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Evanston Decriminalizes Marijuana: Small-Quantity Possession Punishable By Fine (VIDEO)

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The passage of a northern Chicago suburb's 2012 budget included an ordinance that decriminalizes marijuana possession of 10 grams or less, penalizing offenders with a fine rather than the jail time they could face elsewhere.

The Evanston City Council voted 6-3 on a $250 million budget Monday night, according to Evanston Patch. Aldermen justified the more lenient marijuana ordinance as a protection against young people's futures (infractions under the new ordinance will not appear on criminal records), and as part of an effort to free up police they say are overextended in the town, which has about 75,000 residents and contains Northwestern University.

"There is a high amount of paperwork and time that is spent going to court," Ald. Melissa Wynne (3rd) told The Daily Northwestern. "It's not just the arrest but then the processing and follow-through that take a lot of time."

Under previous local laws, possession of 10 grams or less could result in a 6-month jail term, ABC Chicago reports.

Current local law could result in a 6-month jail term for possession of up to 10 grams of pot.

When the budget meeting was opened to citizen comments, several Evanston residents praised the policy change, according to Fox Chicago.

"It does not say that it's okay to smoke pot, but it does say that they don't have to live in fear of having a record follow them the rest of their life if they are caught," Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl told Fox.

Dickelle Fonda, an Evanston resident, worked with Northeastern Illinois University student Jersey Hosier to research marijuana arrests in Evanston between Jan. 2008 and Oct. 2009 and found a disproportionately high number of marijuana possession arrests involved black residents compared to white residents, Patch reports.

"I hope that it's the beginning of a larger discussion and looking at a larger picture of what is happening to certain segments of our population in Evanston," Fonda told Patch. "I think that when we look at why young people are stopped and where they're stopped, there are some serious questions that need to be answered."

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle has lobbied for a similar shift in low-level drug possession penalties to ease the county's overextended budget.

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