Marijuana Possession: Is It Worth An Arrest?

When is necessary to arrest someone? Recently, the topic of marijuana possession has begged this question. In the realm of criminal justice, it is hard to argue against the necessity of arrests when a serious crime has been committed. However, there are some minor crimes for which an arrest seems an extreme reaction. In theory, Illinois and the city of Chicago are making efforts to decriminalize possession of small amount of marijuana and minimize related arrests; in reality, however,individuals are still being arrested almost every time they are caught.

In 2012, the Chicago City Council voted for the city to begin issuing tickets—instead of making arrests—for small amounts of marijuana. The law was thought to have potential for generating significant revenue for the city and redirecting police efforts to more pressing concerns. It comes as a disappointment, then, to learn that—according to a recent study released by Roosevelt University's Illinois Consortium on Drug Policy—93 percent of these misdemeanor possession cases still result in arrest.

As Kathleen Kane-Wallis, the study's lead author, points out, "that means that instead of issuing tickets and fines—considered an easier and more efficient process—police chose to take people to jail". Not only is this overly harsh punishment for the individual, it is also a waste of time and effort of police officers and a waste of taxpayer dollars. Surely these resources could be better spent on protecting citizens from real danger.

The number of misdemeanor arrests for marijuana in the state is further frustrating due to the inconsistencies of decriminalization policies and their enforcement. If a violation in one municipality results in a fine while the same crime in another part of the state results in arrest, someone is being treated unfairly.

Enacting legislation to lessen the punishment for marijuana possession does seem like a promising beginning; and indeed, the number of arrests has fallen since the new law took effect. However, until the city and state can work out how to implement new rules fairly and consistently, it might be wise to hold off on enthusiasm about the possible resulting progress.

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