Perspective on pot

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Somewhere between legalizing marijuana and throwing young people in jail for its personal possession, there is a better way. And state Rep. LaShawn Ford (D-8th), who represents Oak Park and Austin in Springfield, is narrowing in on it.

Ford will hold a town hall meeting next month to gather locals' reaction to his proposal to shift the focus from criminal prosecution of individuals found to be holding less than an ounce of marijuana to a system of fines and treatment.

He put a bill forward in the legislature in January calling for such an approach, and it may be the loneliest legislation in the state capital. Ford is the sole sponsor and it hasn't seen the light of day since it landed in the rules committee back in March.

That's not to say that Ford is alone in pushing this approach. Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle is becoming ever more direct in saying the county government is swamped — both its courts and its jail — with minor drug offenses. And there is no rational argument that says we are protecting society or benefiting young men, disproportionately young black men, by leaving them with hard time in a tough jail and a criminal record that further sinks their opportunities.

Change is overdue and Ford's balanced approach deserves a fair hearing. He is not legalizing pot. He is decriminalizing minor possession, levying stiff fines for perpetrators and using that pool of funds both to expand policing and to provide treatment to users.

We've spent a year detailing concerns about drug and alcohol excesses among local teens. But, like Ford, our desire has never been to be punitive. We want local parents and local institutions, including OPRF High School and the police, to take the abuse issues more seriously, to not write off the regular use of pot or alcohol abuse as youthful indiscretion. A focus on prevention, counseling, treatment and accountability for both kids and their parents is the right path.

Nowhere do we suggest that incarceration and criminal records are part of the solution. There is a sensible, middle ground. And Rep. Ford is leading us to it.

Reader Comments

6 Comments - Add Your Comment

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Tim  

Posted: August 18th, 2011 7:43 AM

Legalize it, it is a beneficial substance. If more people utilized it there would be a lot less greedy avaricious a$$holes in this world and we could get down to helping eachother .

Aware  

Posted: August 17th, 2011 9:58 PM

Since I don't smoke pot, I have no idea what it does to a person's reactions, but assuming that a person who smokes pot has slower reactions, then it can be handled like alcohol. There was a report on who smokes dope more in the ChicagoNow.com and there is a 15 to 1 ratio difference between Whites and Blacks. The problem goes deeper then just lost opportunities with jobs.

Aware from Oak Park  

Posted: August 17th, 2011 9:55 PM

Do put carry around alcohol like people carry around pot? Why do people carry it around? What if a person is driving a vehicle and they have a match and a joint? Would that be considered open alcohol in a vehicle. If you can get several joints out of an ounce, then why is the person carrying an ounce? Jail, even if that could happen in a packed Cook County jail system, is not the answer.

Jim Coughlin  

Posted: August 17th, 2011 6:22 PM

A very interesting report addresses some of these issues in the most recent edition of The Reader. It costs taxpayers more that $140 a day for each inmate in the Cook County jail system. That money should be spent on the programs that deal with prevention, counseling and treatment.

john murtagh from oak park  

Posted: August 17th, 2011 5:11 PM

With overcrowding in jails throughout the country and little likelihood that the fed, and states will have the money to build more, solutions must be found. Each time someone who is incarcerated for a social crime (marijuana use) then someone else slip out the overcrowding exit to possibly return to do real crimes. The idea that we solve immigration, drug, and social crimes by jailing people is nonsense.

OneWhoKnows  

Posted: August 10th, 2011 9:08 AM

Been saying since early '80's that OP should pass an ordinance making possession of marijuana illegal and allow the PD to use that against small amount possessors. Write them a ticket mandating a local court appearance and fines that go to the village. After 2 or 3 offenses to the same person then policy would be go with criminal court. Saves PD time and money and doesn't criminalize self users.

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