Chicago Will Cut Weed Users A Lot More Slack

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As the state prepares for legal recreational marijuana, police have to adapt policies. Presence of weed alone no longer can be used to seize vehicles. Pot possession fines will be lower.

The legalization of recreational marijuana use means big changes for police—and soon.

The Chicago City Council will take up an ordinance today that brings police policies in line with the state law that takes effect Jan. 1.

The biggest change will prevent police from seizing any vehicle in which cannabis is found, no matter the amount. Forfeitures have been a contentious issue.

Other proposed changes also will reduce the fines for illegal marijuana possession to $50 for a first offense from $250 to $500 under current laws. The state of Illinois decriminalized minor marijuana possession in 2016, making it punishable by a fine rather than jail time.

Earlier this year, Illinois lawmakers legalized possession of up to 30 grams of marijuana by people 21 or older, starting Jan. 1. Cannabis use by minors and public use, including in a vehicle, will remain illegal.

One of the motivations behind legalization was to end policies associated with the 30-year-old war on drugs that put large numbers of minorities, especially in cities such as Chicago, in jail.

“For far too long, unjust and outdated cannabis enforcement laws have adversely and disproportionately affected Chicago’s black and brown neighborhoods,” Mayor Lori Lightfoot said in a statement. “The legalization of cannabis in Illinois presents a powerful opportunity to reform our policies and right these generation-old wrongs of the past as we work to ensure a safe, fair and responsible implementation in Chicago.”

The city will have to train officers on how to comply with the new law in the roughly six weeks until recreational sales become legal in Illinois. It’s likely that weed will be treated by police more like alcohol than an illegal drug.

“We’re attempting to make our municipal code less punitive for minor cannabis offenses and give clear direction to our officers,” said Paul Stewart, an adviser to Lightfoot on marijuana policy.

How the law will be enforced has been a frequent discussion topic at community meetings, such as one held last week in Austin that drew nearly 100 residents, according to the Austin Weekly News.