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Chicago greenlights citations for marijuana instead of arrests

By David Ariosto, CNN
updated 5:59 PM EDT, Wed June 27, 2012
In Chicago, police can now issue citations rather than arrest people found with small amounts of marijuana.
In Chicago, police can now issue citations rather than arrest people found with small amounts of marijuana.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Chicago approves a measure that allows citations for those carrying small amounts
  • Offenders would face a fine that ranges from $250 to $500
  • Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee signed a similar measure into law earlier this month
  • New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo asked legislators to reduce penalties for possession

(CNN) -- The Chicago City Council approved a measure on Wednesday that allows police to issue citations for those carrying small amounts of marijuana rather than make arrests. It's the latest follow through by U.S. officials to decrease penalties associated with the drug.

The ordinance, which was modified from a 2011 plan, would afford city police officers the discretion to issue a citation for those carrying up to 15 grams of marijuana. Offenders would face a fine that ranges from $250 to $500.

"The result is an ordinance that allows us to observe the law, while reducing the processing time for minor possession of marijuana -- ultimately freeing up police officers for the street," Mayor Rahm Emanuel said in a statement.

The measure will take effect on August 4, though it wouldn't apply on school grounds, in parks or among offenders 16 and younger, according to mayoral spokeswoman Jennifer Martinez.

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Police officers are expected to undergo training on the new policy in the next two weeks.

Earlier this month, Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee signed a similar measure into law, allowing law enforcement to issue civil fines for the small amounts of possession, rather than arrests.

Also in June, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo asked legislators to reduce penalties for possession of small amounts of the drug that are in public view.

Saying the aim was to avoid unnecessary misdemeanor charges against thousands of New Yorkers -- "disproportionately black and Hispanic youth" -- the proposed legislation "brings consistency and fairness" to New York's marijuana laws, the governor's office said.

In 1977, New York's legislature reduced the penalty for possessing 25 grams or less of marijuana to a noncriminal violation carrying a fine of no more than $100 for first-time offenders -- as long as the marijuana was in private possession and not in public view.

If the marijuana is out and viewable in public, it becomes a Class B misdemeanor.

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