What's up this week: Council to consider pot ordinance; public meetings on future of Fisk, Crawford sites

What's up this week: Council to consider pot ordinance; public meetings on future of Fisk, Crawford sites
Photo by Nick Moroni

The city council will decide on Wednesday whether to OK an ordinance that would allow police officers to ticket people caught with small amounts of marijuana, rather than arrest them.

Under the ordinance--originally introduced last year by 25th Ward Ald. Danny Solis and recently backed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel--people 18 and over caught with 15 grams of marijuana or less would be issued fines of $250-$500.

Provisions in the ordinance state that anyone who is 17 or younger, or does not have identification shall be arrested. What's more, anyone caught possessing marijuana--regardless of the amount--in a park or on school property would be taken into custody. A person who packages pot to sell it would also be arrested, even if he or she has less than 15 grams.

The ordinance is being marketed as a way to keep more police on the street--the department is severely understaffed and Chicago has experienced a violent summer, thus far--and as a way to save the cash-strapped Cook County government money by keeping low-level offenders out of the courts and the county jail.

Before the public safety committee voted 13-1 Thursday to send the ordinance to the full council, Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy--who has since thrown his weight behind the legislation--told aldermen that 46,000 police hours would be saved annually if officers do not have to process these types of marijuana arrests.

At the county level, 85 percent of low-level marijuana arrests end up being tossed out of court, according to the Chicago Sun-Times. What's more, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle has long advocated for marijuana reform. That's in part to save the county money, but also to keep many young people of color--who are disproportionately arrested and prosecuted for low-level offenses like marijuana possession--out of the criminal justice system.

Before the committee voted in favor of sending the pot ordinance to the full council last week, several African American council members, lead by 9th Ward Ald. Anthony Beale, said they worried that the fines were too high, and that low-income people of color in their wards might not be able to pay them.

All of those aldermen still supported the ordinance.

Laws allowing police officers to cite people for pot possession instead of arresting them have been on the books in many Chicago suburbs, around the state, and in other states and cities for years.

Public meetings to address future use of Fisk and Crawford plant sites

A task force formed by Mayor Emanuel in April will convene two meetings this week to gather public input on what to do with Southwest Side land that will soon be vacated by the Fisk and Crawford power plants, the Mayor's Press Office announced last week.

The Fisk and Crawford Reuse Task Force wants the public to offer suggestions on "developing economic development and job creation alternatives" at the sites--Fisk is located in Pilsen and Crawford in Little Village--when both of the power plants close down.

In February, Emanuel put his support behind the contentious and long-stalled Clean Power Ordinance, which would have required Midwest Generation, the owner of the plants, to invest in retrofitting to reduce the amount of pollution the plants emit.

Midwest Generation decided that would be too costly, so they opted to close them by the end of the year. Oh, they'll also get a $64 million tax break for doing so.

The task force is supposed to come up with economically fruitful ways to use the land once Midwest Generation pulls out.

Aldermen Solis, of the 25th Ward, and Ricardo Munoz, of the 22nd Ward, are part of the task force. Solis represents Pilsen and Munoz, Little Village.

The Clean Power Ordinance--which Solis originally opposed--forced the Pilsen alderman into a run-off election against Cuahtémoc "Temoc" Morfin last year. Solis won, but only after flip-flopping and backing the ordinance. That followed a backlash from community members and clean-power advocates that could have derailed his re-election.

It should also be noted that since 2002, Solis' 25th Ward Democratic Organization accepted $49,900 in campaign contributions from Midwest Generation, according to the Illinois State Board of Elections.

The task force's first hearing is in Pilsen on June 26, 6-9 p.m., at the National Museum of Mexican Art, 1852 W. 19th St. The second hearing is in Little Village on June 28, 6-9 p.m., at Little Village High School, 3120 S. Kostner.

Attendees need to arrive by 6:30 at the latest if they wish to offer public comment. The task force has also put up a website for community members to offer input.

© Community Renewal Society 2012



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