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The Chicago Tribune reported that Mayor Rahm Emanuel called on the General Assembly to replace criminal penalties with civil penalties for the possession of marijuana statewide at a state legislative hearing today.
During the 90 minutes of testimony before the House-Senate Joint Criminal Reform Committee in Chicago, the mayor urged lawmakers to challenge the “assumptions that are embedded in the criminal justice system” and argued that reducing the penalties for minor drug possession would allow the city of Chicago and state of Illinois to focus their efforts on more violent crime.
“It’s time, in my view, to free up our criminal justice system to address our real public safety challenges and build on the progress that has been made,” Emanuel stated. The proposed changes, the mayor said, would “change, not just the criminal system, and the fact that we’ll save time and money, but it also will change people’s lives. Some who are walking around with a felony, their employment prospects, their job prospects, their lives are on a different trajectory than if they had a misdemeanor associated with them.”
The mayor’s proposal is being viewed by some as a way to gain support for his big push to get lawmakers to toughen penalties for gun crimes. In fact, easing sentencing for less violent crimes, such as drug possession, could aid Emanuel, who is up for re-election in February, win political support from those state lawmakers who have been hesitant to pass tougher sentencing measures for gun crimes. More importantly, however, reducing sentencing for less violent crimes would help the estimated 7,000 people who are arrested, and subsequently affected, for the possession of one gram or less of a drug each year.