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Ald. Burke not sold yet on Emanuel pot ticketing idea

An influential Chicago alderman said today he's not yet ready to sign off on Mayor Rahm Emanuel's proposal to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana.

Although Ald. Edward Burke, 14th, didn’t rule out backing the mayor’s plan, the veteran City Council member said he needs to know far more about when police will write tickets instead of making arrests.

“If you run across somebody that’s violating the law and you want to write them a ticket as opposed to taking them into custody, and that person has no identification, how do you write the ticket?” Burke asked, after a speech at the City Club of Chicago.

“Do you believe what the person says — my name is Joe Blow, or my name is George Washington and he’s got no identification to back that up? How do you then guarantee that that person is going to show up for the administrative hearing?”

Under Emanuel’s proposal, which a Council committee could hear as soon as Thursday, police would have the option of writing tickets for possession of 15 grams of pot or less. Fines would range from $100 to $500.

That could generate millions in city revenue and potentially give beat cops more time on the street to deal with more serious issues like gang violence.

Police, however, could still enforce state statute and make arrests, and Burke wants to know when they are going to use that discretion.

“The Police Department has to show us, I think, that they are not just going to blindly issue tickets to everybody that’s in possession of small amounts,” said Burke, a former cop and the longest serving council member. “There has to be a certain strategy to know which of these people that they could write a ticket to are eligible for a ticket.”

Burke also questioned the affect that writing tickets might have on younger people’s views of drug use.

“This a slippery slope that we begin sliding down,” he said. “I’ll tell you as a parent, I’m very concerned with anything that gives kids the idea that this is not a bad thing to do.”

Pot decriminalization was first suggested last year by Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, who said low-income people and minorities are arrested for pot possession in disproportionate numbers.

Ald. Daniel Solis, 25th, agreed and put a proposal before the council that Emanuel plans to modify and support.

Despite reservations like those expressed by Burke, Ald. Patrick O’Connor, 40th, the mayor’s council floor leader, said he expects the proposal to win approval, if not by a huge margin.

“I think there will be a lot of personal involvement in this vote,” O’Connor said, noting some aldermen may be influenced by knowing people who have had drug problems. “There’s a myriad of issues that go beyond just whether you are decriminalizing marijuana, and I don’t know that everybody’s there.”

O’Connor said he also doesn’t expect the Emanuel administration to try to force the issue. “I don’t think there will be a full-court press to make sure it passes overwhelmingly,” he said.

Burke, meanwhile, said time will tell whether he votes for it.

“I’m not saying we shouldn’t do this,” he said. “I’m saying there’s a lot of questions that should be answered.”

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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