Kristen Mack and John Byrne report that a majority of aldermen are behind the mayor’s recent push to decriminalize marijuana possession. (Regarding which, Steve Rhodes makes a good point: 15 grams should be put into perspective if—like me—you don’t know what that means in, um, practical terms.) It still has to make it out of the Committee on Public Safety, and chair James Balcer is signaling some skepticism, but so far in the mayor’s tenure he’s gotten his way. Above all, that’s probably the best evidence that it will pass.
Under Emanuel’s proposal, police officers would have the discretion to issue tickets with fines ranging from $100 to $500 for people carrying 15 grams or less of marijuana.
Adopting that approach could generate millions in city revenue and potentially give beat cops more time on the street to deal with more serious issues such as gang violence, Emanuel and other supporters have said.
As always, a reminder of how things are financed these days:
Fines and other revenue are the big gainers. (Update: here’s the source, PDF.)
Another reason is that opponents just don’t have the same ammo that they used to, because the culture has changed. The Sun-Times focused on the opponents and/or skeptics of the measure, including a couple aldermen, Phil Cline, and a former drug czar. And their arguments, while not necessarily unreasonable in and of themselves, have a lot to go up against: not just the considerable expense of policing marijuana users, but the context in which we now consider marijuana. For instance:
“Could this lead to legalizing [marijuana]?” Balcer said. “Could it lead to more problems than we have with it — health issues, too? Let’s be honest. Smoking isn’t good for your health. Pot may be worse.”
Well, as Rhodes notes, pot’s not necessarily worse for your lungs; the science isn’t definitive, but pot smokers just don’t smoke as much as cigarette smokers. It’s not a terribly unfavorable comparison to a product that remains legal.
Asked if the mayor’s plan to issue pot tickets was the very definition of decriminalization, [ex-drug czar Peter] Bensinger said, “It sounds like it. You’re getting a traffic ticket, and that’s all you get. How many tickets can you get — three or five? And what’s gonna prevent the person from getting behind the wheel of an automobile when we know marijuana use doubles the risk of a crash.”
Bensinger may be referring to a very recent review of literature on marijuana and car crashes published in the British Medical Journal. It did find that pot use doubles—well, nearly doubles—the risk of a crash. What it also found should be easy enough to guess:
Surveys of young drivers have also shown that rates of driving under the influence of cannabis have surpassed rates of drinking and driving in some jurisdictions. Nevertheless, alcohol remains the substance most often present in crashes, and the observed association between cannabis consumption and crash risk is less robust than that for alcohol. For example, a blood alcohol concentration of 0.8 g/100 mL (17.36 mmol/l), which is the criminal threshold for impairment in many jurisdictions, is associated with an increased relative risk of a crash of 2.69, with a substantially higher risk for drivers aged 35 years and younger.
Again, another not-unfavorable comparison to a legal product. Which is not, in and of itself, an argument for the decriminalization of marijuana, but we do allow people to do things that aren’t necessarily good for them or others (or regulate them gently) like drink, smoke, or buy lottery tickets. And for a lot of reasons: political freedom, revenue, and the idea that the effects of prohibition are worse than the effects of considerably more lax regulations. That last one should be pretty resonant here.
Photograph: JosephAdams (CC by 2.0)