September 23, 2014 / 5:00 PM / 4 years ago

Chicago Mayor Emanuel proposes decriminalizing pot in Illinois

CHICAGO (Reuters) - Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel asked Illinois lawmakers on Tuesday to reform sentencing for low-level drug offenses, which would include ticketing rather than arresting people caught with small amounts of marijuana.

Mayor of Chicago Rahm Emanuel arrives at the public unveiling of Motorola Mobility global headquarters in Chicago, Illinois, April 22, 2014. REUTERS/Jim Young

Emanuel had backed a 2012 change in Chicago law that decriminalized marijuana in the nation’s third-largest city. Emanuel said on Tuesday that the change statewide would save tax dollars, allow police to focus on more serious crimes and keep non-violent offenders from a lifetime in the criminal justice system.

“It doesn’t make sense that one arrest for a very small amount of a controlled substance can lead to a lifetime of struggles, sending people in and out of prison and putting up barriers to getting a job or finding a place to live,” Emanuel said in a statement.

The proposal calls for a new state law that would reduce possession of one gram or less of any controlled substance in Illinois from a felony to a misdemeanor, and expand Chicago’s municipal ordinance, making possession of 15 grams or less of cannabis a ticketable offense statewide.

Sixteen states plus the District of Columbia have decriminalized marijuana possession and two states have legalized retail sales, according to NORML, a group lobbying to legalize the drug.

“It’s consistent with both Democratic and Republican efforts at the state levels to reduce prison populations,” NORML executive director Allen St. Pierre said of Emanuel’s proposal.

A May 2014 Roosevelt University study of the implementation of the marijuana decriminalization ordinance was critical of Chicago police, finding they were still more likely to arrest people caught with small amounts of pot than ticket them.

A Chicago police spokesman said at the time the department had made progress, but acknowledged there was more work to do.

Reporting by Mary Wisniewski; Editing by Doina Chiacu

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