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Marijuana Law May Aid Violators


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A new ordinance set to take effect in May will give Peoria Heights police officers the option of writing village code violations for minor drug offenses.

The local law, which mirrors a state violation for marijuana possession, means the village will reap more money from fines in such cases.

For the offender, the new ordinance also can mean a possible second chance. Unlike state charges, if a person pays the local fine, it is taken off his or her criminal records.

"After a police officer issues you a ticket, the work often doesn't just stop there," Peoria Heights police Chief Dustin Sutton said.

Under the new ordinance, those caught with less than 2.5 grams of marijuana would be handed a $200 fine; between 2.5 grams and 10 grams, a $300 fine; and between 10 and 30 grams, a fine of $400 - each of the levels coinciding with a different class misdemeanor. Second offenses would add $100. Selling or possessing drug paraphernalia will get you a $300 fine.

That could translate into $12,000 annually for the village - not a huge amount - which Peoria Heights police Chief Dustin Sutton said wasn't created to generate revenue, although he admits that it will.

Fines are paid at Peoria Heights Village Hall, avoiding the state courts all together. The ordinance spares a trip to jail, lessens the cost to offenders and frees up the police officer as well as the court system.

The village will forward the cases of offenders who fail to pay to the Peoria County State's Attorney's Office.

Sutton emphasized officers still have the option to issue the similar state charge, which he said regular offenders would more likely receive.

The new ordinance, which goes into effect May 4, will allow the village to recoup more money than what they receive through current fine structures sometimes split at the state, county and local levels. Those prosecuted under the Cannabis Control Act route 50 percent of fines to local law enforcement agencies, although Peoria County Circuit Clerk Bobby Spears said such isn't the case in Peoria and that the county keeps all fines associated with such drug cases.

While Peoria Heights is no hotbed for drug arrests, Sutton said they do average five to eight arrests each month.

From those arrests, officers might be called to court sometimes two to three times on a single case, "which you have to schedule time for - a lot of that is overtime - and you have to budget for that," Sutton said. "This will help offset costs."

While the chief said he learned of the idea from a conference in suburban Chicago, the concept certainly isn't new. Both Morton and Washington have had similar ordinances in place for about two decades.

Morton police Chief Nick Graff said he feels their ordinance helps the state's attorney's office by not unnecessarily adding cases.

Morton and Washington also offer the Second Chance Youth Program, which allows pre-teens and teens who get in trouble with the law another chance. Instead of going to court and having misdemeanor offenses on their record, these kids can participate in a rigorous six-month supervision program and, in turn, likely won't be prosecuted.

Newshawk: CoZmO - 420Magazine.com
Source: THE JOURNAL STAR (Illinois)
Author: Dave Haney
Contact: dhaney@pjstar.com
Website: PJStar.com - The Peoria Journal Star Online Edition
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