Public Safety “waiting for clarification” on new marijuana ordinance
Published: Monday, July 16, 2012
Updated: Monday, August 27, 2012 16:08
The new Chicago marijuana ordinance will take effect in early August, allowing those possessing small quantities of the illegal drug to evade arrest. While federal law mandates that any amount of marijuana can result in revocation of financial aid, DePaul is examining the ordinance to determine how it will affect future policies at the university.
The new ordinance allows police officers to issue written tickets for those possessing 15 grams or less of marijuana. Fines would vary based on a person’s criminal record and would fall in the range of $250 to $500 per violation. The ordinance does not exempt people in possession of the illegal substance at parks or schools and those identified in such areas will continue to face arrest.
The city council approved the ordinance late last month with the idea that the new policy would allow police officers to spend more time addressing the surge of more serious crime in the city.
"The simple truth is that the decades-long policies that we have had toward possession of small amounts of marijuana have failed to do anything other than fill our jails with nonviolent offenders,” said 21st Ward Ald. Howard Brookins in a statement released by the mayor’s office. “We want police to be in our neighborhoods fighting series crime and violence.”
For students at DePaul, whose use of marijuana is evident in data compiled by the Public Safety Office, the consequences of the new ordinance remain unclear.
The Office of Public Safety stated that it is not yet able to comment on whether the new ordinance will alter the manner in which the university handles marijuana violations in the future.
“We are still waiting for the final clarification of the ordinance,” said Robert Wachowski, director of DePaul Public Safety. “This will determine what if any changes will take place,” he said.
DePaul currently states it has the right to take action in cases involving drugs on or around its facilities as illustrated in the Safety and Security Information Report & Fire Safety Report. The document, released each year by the Public Safety Office, includes annual crime data from the year prior.
In 2010, there were 34 arrests for drug abuse violations in the Lincoln Park Campus dorms according to the most recent campus crime report.
Students who are convicted of the sale or possession of drugs while receiving federal student aid may face suspension of financial assistance under an amended version of the Higher Education Act of 1965.
“We are aware of this new ordinance in Chicago and we will soon begin reviewing how the new law might affect our policies and procedures,” said Art Munin, dean of students at DePaul. “We also are waiting for some clarification regarding the ordinance.”
Though the new ordinance may alter how Chicago Police are addressing violations, possession will still affect student’s financial aid eligibility according to the Federal Student Aid Information Center (FSAIC).
“This still affects their eligibility,” said one FSAIC representative. “There hasn’t been a change on the federal level.”
Another FSAIC representative whose name was withheld said there currently are students with criminal convictions that receive aid, though they may not be drug-related charges. Regardless, this is a big change from 20 years ago when offenders were completely ineligible of receiving financial assistance, she said.
The Federal Student Aid Program states that students who have lost federal assistance due to drug convictions are able to recover their eligibility status by passing “two unannounced drug tests conducted by a drug rehabilitation program that complies with criteria established by the U.S. Department of Education.”
Changes in the legal status of marijuana have been an ongoing debate in the U.S. and disputes over the use, taxation and regulation of the plant have been present for centuries.
Many proponents of the plant’s legalization say the plant has many medicinal and economical benefits. Some argue it was outlawed because of threats to major oil, textile, and pharmaceutical companies that the cannabis plants’ products could replace if they were legal to produce.
Others contend that laws specifically target low-income and communities of color. The Marijuana Arrest Research Project, which studies trends of marijuana possession in large U.S. cities, also says government studies consistently find whites to be the primary users of the illegal substance. Still, 98 percent of people who are convicted of possessing small amounts of marijuana are Hispanic or Black.
Mayor Rahm Emmanuel argues many marijuana charges are thrown out by judges and agreed that time spent by police in making arrests and booking offenders in jail were restricting police efforts throughout the city.
“After studying the facts, the Council reached the same conclusion that I did,” said Mayor Rahm Emmanuel in a statement released by his office. “We cannot afford to take our officers off the streets for hours at a time only to see over 80 percent of the marijuana cases dismissed in court.”
Police officers in Chicago will begin issuing written citations Aug. 4 and a portion of revenue generated from tickets will go toward drug-abuse prevention and education programs according to the mayor’s office.
In the meantime, police officers are being trained to recognize, test, write charges, and identify the plant that continues to be an illegal substance in Chicago and throughout the country.