The Cook County state’s attorney’s office says it is changing the way it prosecutes low-level drug offenses, including dismissal of misdemeanor marijuana cases.
“If someone is caught with a misdemeanor amount of marijuana, the state’s attorney’s office will no longer prosecute that case,” office spokeswoman Sally Daly said Sunday. The program will cover people with fewer than three arrests or citations, she said.
The office will announce the changes at 10:15 a.m. Monday. Daly said they are part of an overhaul that will also address how the office prosecutes small amounts of such drugs as Ecstasy, cocaine and heroin.
The changes will include creation of an alternative prosecution program aimed at diverting nonviolent, repeat drug offenders out of the criminal justice system.
The program, designed for those charged with Class 4 felony possession — currently punishable by up to a $25,000 fine or one to three years in prison, or both — will attempt to address chronic drug use and addiction as a public health issue. Repeat offenders are expected to be linked with social service agencies for treatment rather than face criminal penalties.
The proposed changes will not affect pending cases, Daly said.
Last year, Class 4 felony drug possession cases made up about a quarter of all felony cases in Cook County. Prosecutors also saw more than 15,000 misdemeanor cases for small amounts of marijuana, according to the state’s attorney’s office.
“We potentially could ask for treatment for those cases,” Daly said. “Currently, our big emphasis is pushing toward treatment.”
In 2012, Chicago adopted a marijuana ordinance allowing police to issue tickets of $250 to $500 for someone caught with up to 15 grams of pot.
While the number of people found in possession of less than 15 grams of pot has remained stagnant from 2013 to 2014, police arrested 3,000 fewer people, opting for citations instead, Chicago police spokesman Martin Maloney said.
“The state’s attorney’s action is a welcome step . . . to reduce sentences for some offenses while focusing on the most dangerous gun crimes,” he said.
Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart’s office applauded the effort “to find a more productive approach to low level, nonviolent drug offenses.”
Dan Linn, executive director of the Illinois National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, lauded the changes, noting the sizable racial disparity in the first year of implementing the ticketing ordinance, with more whites being ticketed and more minorities being arrested.
“It sets a certain tone with individuals because so many are afraid to interact with police and don’t call police when they should,” Linn said.
The announcement falls on what has become known as “Weed Day,” a celebration of marijuana. Daly said the timing was “pure coincidence.”
Source: Chicago Tribune