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Marijuana ticketing to be enforced, expanded to Ford Heights

This is a map which shows the borders of Cook ...
Cook County marijuana ticketing will be uniform across the County soon. Image via Wikipedia

Getting a ticket for possession of 10 grams of marijuana or less, instead of getting arrested, could come to Cook County because of recent change to the cannabis possession ordinance.

The Cook County Board of Commissioners expanded the jurisdiction of marijuana ticketing for possession of 10 grams or less, ordinance  to cover Ford Heights.

The Cook County Sheriff’s Office acts as the primary law enforcement in Ford Heights. The Ford Heights police department has been inactive since 2008 due to budget problems.

Although the cannabis ordinance was first passed in 2009, it has not yet been enforced by the sheriff’s office because of what Under sheriff Zelda Whittler said was “the disparity” in jurisdiction.

She said that the staffing shortages meant that officers assigned to one area might be sent into any other area of Cook County. In order to be enforced, the Cook County Sheriff’s Office needed to have a “uniform policy,” which the disparities in the law across the county did not allow.

Meanwhile, drug arrests have continued. Whittler cited arrests in Cook County for drug possession at 299 for 2009, 348 for 2010, and 228 for 2011 so far.

After this change, Whittler says that the sheriff’s office will begin to enforce the measure and issue tickets instead of arresting offenders.

But don’t expect a ticket in all cases. Whittler says that law enforcement officials will still have the “discretionary authority if they feel there is a need to arrest.”

The ordinance makes possession of small amounts of marijuana punishable by a citation and a fine of $200. It will no longer be a misdemeanor requiring jail time, a move that Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle supports.

“We are clogging our courts with drug offenders, Preckwinkle said, adding that there is too much of a focus on low level users and that efforts should instead focus on dealing with addiction.

Commissioner Edwin Reyes, (8th), raised opposition to having the ordinance apply to those 17 and older because 17 year olds are  no longer classified as adults, “we could be opening up a Pandora’s box.” He advocated having the age limit begin at 21, “like alcohol.”

As a compromise the board voted to remove the section that applied to age so that it would follow the Cannabis Control Act.

With the changes in jurisdiction and age, the measure, originally sponsored by Commissioner Deborah Sims (5th), will go into effect 60 days from the date of its approval.

There are no projections as of yet about how much money this will save the county, Preckwinkle said. She also said that for areas outside of the new jurisdiction, there would be a need to “go to Springfield,” a move which she supports.

“We have numerous success stories,” said William James, the intake coordinator at Ford Heights Community Service Organization, a social service agency that also runs a recovery program for substance abuse. He said he’s worried the change will mean people will simply start carrying smaller amounts of marijuana if there is no additional effort made to address addiction.

“How are they going to rehabilitate?” he asked.

James said that on average, the substance abuse program helps 20 people a day and that this number has increased in the two years he’s worked there. He attributes that to word of mouth spreading about their work, rather than increased drug use.

“There’s a lot of love in this building,” he said.

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