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Rahm Emanuel Marijuana: Chicago Mayor Backs Ticketing, Not Arresting Low-Level Pot Offenders

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Left: A woman smokes marijuana during a demonstration in favor of legalizing the drug outside the Senate in Mexico City, Friday April 20, 2012. (AP Photo/Eduardo Verdugo) Right: Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel testifies at the Illinois State Capitol Tuesday, May 8, 2012 in Springfield, Ill. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman)
Left: A woman smokes marijuana during a demonstration in favor of legalizing the drug outside the Senate in Mexico City, Friday April 20, 2012. (AP Photo/Eduardo Verdugo) Right: Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel testifies at the Illinois State Capitol Tuesday, May 8, 2012 in Springfield, Ill. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman)

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel is expected on Friday to introduce a proposal that would allow police officers to issue tickets to individuals caught with small amounts of marijuana.

Under current law, those arrested for pot possession can face a punishment of up to six months in jail, plus a $1,500 fine, but the mayor's proposal would essentially decriminalize possessing small amounts of weed. Police would be able to ticket low-level offenders -- those possessing less than 15 grams of the drug -- and fine them up to $500, the Chicago Sun-Times reports.

Last fall, Ald. Danny Solis (25th) introduced a similar marijuana ticketing ordinance to the City Council, a proposal he estimated would bring the city $7 million per year and save both police and court workers "money and thousands of hours of time." A matter of days later, the Evanston City Council voted to ticket those possessing less than 10 grams of marijuana.

But the Chicago measure failed to gain much traction, even on the heels of Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle's outspoken criticism of low-level drug possession arrests, which Preckwinkle said "clog up our jail and these people, their cases will be dismissed out anyway."

Emanuel initially stayed quiet on the ordinance but, according to NBC Chicago, has since done more research into the issue and has come upon the conclusion that such a change would allow the city to "observe the law, while reducing the processing time for minor possession of marijuana – ultimately freeing up police officers for the street."

Solis praised the mayor's proposal in a statement, the Chicago Tribune reports:

One of the most significant results of this ordinance is that it will allow our police officers to spend more time out policing our neighborhoods and less time processing minor offenses and filling out paperwork. Passing this ordinance will be a major victory in promoting safe neighborhoods and reducing crime.

Preckwinkle, too, weighed in Friday on Emanuel's proposal as "a step in the right direction and will allow the Chicago Police Department to focus efforts on serious and violent crime, rather than minor infringements." She urged the City Council to support the plan, which she said will "help reduce the jail population, save money for taxpayers and eliminate criminal justice disparities."

While Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy commented earlier this month that he is "not a fan" of decriminalizing marijuana, he is in favor of keeping officers on the streets to tackle more serious crimes, particularly as the city is in the midst of a surging homicide rate compared to the previous year.

Solis is expected to introduce the proposal to the City Council later this month.

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