Monday, September 20, 2004

Fines For Marijuana

This is the best idea I've heard in a long time. A Chicago police sergeant has suggested that the city should ticket people for possessing small amounts of marijuana rather than arresting them:

Sgt. Tom Donegan said he has long been fed up with making arrests for possession of small amounts of the drug, only to see judges later drop the charges. He said that court records from last year indicate that 94 percent of the 6,954 Chicago cases involving marijuana amounts smaller than 2.5 grams were dismissed, as were 81 percent of the cases involving from 2.5 to 10 grams. Donegan said assessing fines of $250 for possession of 10 grams or less would have raised $5 million for the city's coffers in 2003.
This proposition was announced the same day that City Hall suggested raising taxes on gasoline and natural gas. The problem with a gasoline tax is that people leave the city to buy gas (the city already charges an extra five cents). As for natural gas, since most Chicagoans heat their homes with it, an added tax there would be like a back-door real estate tax increase. The marijuana proposal is a better alternative. Not only would it increase city revenue (and cut the expense of paying police to go to court for cases that are thrown out), but it would take a burden off the courts, too, to the tune of 27-28 cases a day (6,954 cases divided by 250 weekdays). One addition I would suggest to prevent this from being abused by those who can afford the fines is a limit similar to speeding tickets: after a certain number of tickets, the offender should be arrested. Theoretically, a judge would be less likely to throw out a case knowing that the offender has violated the law several times to even end up in court.

Of course, as someone who uses lots of natural gas, some gasoline, and no marijuana, I could be biased. The city would never approve of it anyway. I predict that this is the first and last we will ever hear of this proposal.

[UPDATE 09/22/04]
I guess I was wrong. The Sun-Times has a front page story today about Mayor Daley's support for "pot tickets."

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