May 19, 2014 / 8:25 PM / 5 years ago

Chicago pot arrests more likely than fines despite new law: study

CHICAGO (Reuters) - Chicago police are still far more likely to arrest people caught with small amounts of marijuana than ticket them as allowed under a 2012 ordinance intended to promote the more lenient penalties, a study released on Monday found.

Ninety-three percent of misdemeanor marijuana possession violations in 2013 resulted in arrest in the nation’s third-largest city, while 7 percent resulted in tickets, a study by Roosevelt University’s Illinois Consortium on Drug Policy found.

The study shows some of the difficulties that can come with implementing a new drug policy, even as more states and cities soften their approach to marijuana.

In Chicago, police may issue a citation for a fine of $250 to $500 for possession of small amounts of marijuana, 15 grams (0.5 ounce) or less, instead of making an arrest. Seattle, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and other cities have similar policies.

“This report is letting voters in Chicago know that the system in place that was criticized previously is still in place,” said Allen St. Pierre, executive director of NORML, a group lobbying to legalize the drug.

Supporters of the Chicago measure, which included Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy, argued that it would raise revenue for the cash-strapped city, save money and free up police to pursue more serious crimes.

A Chicago police spokesman said the department has made progress, but acknowledged there was more work to do. Misdemeanor pot arrests totaled 15,898 in 2013, down 21 percent from 20,088 in 2011 before the decriminalization measure.

“We will continue looking for ways to improve our implementation of the existing cannabis ordinance, and possibly even improving the ordinance itself, so our officers can focus on illegal guns and reducing violent crime,” McCarthy said.

Arrest is mandatory even for small amounts of marijuana if a person is caught smoking, is near a park or a school, or fails to produce a state ID, police said.

Seattle police spokesman Patrick Michaud said the force has made few possession arrests since the state of Washington decriminalized possession of an ounce or less in 2012, but numbers were not available. Even before that, it was a low priority, he said.

Sixteen states have decriminalized marijuana possession and two states have legalized retail sales, according to NORML.

Editing by Eric Walsh

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