An officer in the Chicago suburb of Wilmette recently searched a vehicle in which two men were riding and discovered a small bag of marijuana–about one joint’s worth– in the glove compartment, reports the Chicago Tribune. If a Chicago police officer had stopped them, they could have been arrested, fingerprinted, and assigned a court date. Instead, each received the equivalent of a parking ticket, a $100 fine under a village ordinance regarding the possession of less than 10 grams of marijuana.
As Chicago officials consider a similar method of ticketing people caught with small amounts of marijuana, many Chicago suburbs have done it for decades. Besides Wilmette, municipalities such as Winnetka, Glenview, and Naperville treat a first-time offender carrying less than 10 grams of marijuana in much the same way: They get a ticket instead of a trip to the police station, officials said. The system allows teenagers to avoid blemishing their records before college, where they can be denied financial aid if convicted of a drug offense. Ticketing offenders also offers flexibility to police and prosecutors, who save time and money by not taking minor cases to court, proponents say. In Cook County, most are dismissed anyway. Although opponents view cannabis as a gateway drug that could lead to addiction, others are increasingly tolerant of the drug, some experts said. “This reflects the changing perceptions of marijuana,” said Ronald Allen, a Northwestern University law professor. He said fining offenders might be a more effective enforcement tool than taking them to court.