Ticketing for pot? It’s been the practice in the ‘burbs
"Kate" of DuPage County displays a bud of hydroponic marijuana that she smoked during an interview. | Sun-Times Media
Updated: August 13, 2012 1:30PM
Chicago, having passed an ordinance to allow tickets for possession of small amounts of marijuana, has joined a big Illinois club, founded in suburbia more than 30 years ago.
Local cops say they, too, save time by writing tickets instead of always pressing state charges. And those cited are less likely to rue the day they were caught, when applying for a job or to college.
But it’s not a panacea.
The stakes for those charged under state law were described last fall by Richard Mosley Jr., a pastor at Hemenway United Methodist Church in Evanston, when that city finally joined the pot-ticket club.
A criminal conviction for marijuana can block a young person “from opportunities you normally would have,” he said.
“We all make mistakes, and sometimes we need assistance overcoming the barriers to enable us to move forward.”
The use of traffic-ticket like citations doesn’t mean the problems of a youthful dope smoker are ignored, said Dr. John Conlin, Northfield Police psychologist. If a youth gets a Northfield marijuana ticket, his parents are likely to get a call or letter from Conlin.
“It makes perfect sense ... because then, I can make contact with them or their parents, and we can see whether he needs help, or it’s just experimentation,” he said.
“So parents can put their efforts into evaluating what’s going on with their sons and daughters, rather than spending it all on attorneys and legal fees.”
It might be wise to get a lawyer anyway, said Shelley Sutker-Dermer, presiding judge of the Second Municipal District Circuit Court of Cook County.
Though a paid ticket won’t show up in normal background checks, it doesn’t disappear. It’s there for all to see who stroll over to the computers in her courthouse.
That information is highly unlikely to interfere in an application to Harvard or Abbott Labs. But those with designs on a political career might want to try to get supervision so the ticket can be easily expunged.
Better yet, she said, in Skokie, young people ticketed on a variety of offenses are invited to get on a fast-track to a dismissal by the village prosecutor, followed by expungement.
The kids, under 18, go to court, but the idea is that they get whatever help they need, and if they get through their programs, Skokie drops their tickets. The paperwork is automatically sent to Sutker-Dermer for expungement.
“Deferred prosecution is our goal, not to hammer the kids,” Skokie Asst. Corporation Counsel Barbara Mangler said. “The most important thing about our program is early intervention.”
Skokie’s Youth Outreach Program began in 1998.
Neighboring Lincolnwood has an ordinance that allows police officers to issue citations at their discretion, but officers sometimes follow state laws, said Lt. John Walsh of the Lincolnwood Police Department.
“Officers determine (on a case-by-case basis) if it’s an ordinance violation or if they’re going by the state statute,” Walsh said. “They may factor in the person’s acceptance to committing the crime or the amount of drugs in the offender’s possession.”
Under state law, anyone caught with less than 2.5 grams of marijuana is charged with a Class C misdemeanor; 2.5-10 grams is a Class B misdemeanor; and 10-30 grams is a Class A misdemeanor. Anything more than 30 grams becomes a Class 4 felony.
“Since Class B and C misdemeanors are less serious, we typically issue citations in those cases,” Walsh said.
This year Lincolnwood has had 14 misdemeanor marijuana cases so far and one felony arrest. Last year there were 24 misdemeanor cases and five felony arrests, and in 2010 there were 23 misdemeanors and no felonies for marijuana.
Lincolnshire Police Cmdr. Gregory Duffey said marijuana is not particularly prevalent in his town.
“Most of our marijuana (incidents) are on traffic stops, people passing through.”
This year, Lincolnshire has had 16 marijuana cases, mostly resulting in citations. Last year, there were 34, down from 44 in 2010, 75 in 2009, 77 in 2008 and 68 in 2007.
“It simplifies the process,” Glencoe Chief of Public Safety Mike Volling said Friday. “If you’ve got an individual who’s cooperative, and you think you can alter his behavior, that he can learn his lesson through payment of a small fine, he moves on — as opposed to giving him a state charge, and now he’s got a criminal record.”
For most of the departments, if the amount of marijuana involved is small enough, it’s up to patrol officers who gets a ticket and who gets a state misdemeanor charge.
In Winnetka, eight people were arrested on state charges last year, Deputy Police Chief Joseph Pellus said Friday. Eleven tickets were issued.
Many people don’t know their towns ticket for marijuana, and if they do, they don’t squawk, officials say.
“We’ve been doing that for 30 years here without any community backlash,” Deerfield Police Cmdr. Rick Weil said.
The Park Ridge Police Department addresses marijuana possession on a case-by-case basis, factoring in the amount of suspected marijuana, the age of the individual and prior contacts and arrests associated with drug possession, Deputy Police Chief Lou Jogmen said.
“Our goal is restorative justice, and we want to get people to the right way of thinking for themselves and for their health,” he said.
Contributing: Jennifer Johnson, Pat Krochmal, Karen Berkowitz, Bob Seidenberg, Charles Berman, Bridget O’Shea and free-lance contributor Natalie Hayes