Editorial: Reconsider drug laws as spending is prioritized

Editorial Board

One small step toward decriminalizing possession of marijuana is currently blowing around the Windy City. This week a city councilman for Chicago is set to propose a measure that will reduce the punishment attached to possession of under 10 grams of marijuana.

If the measure is successful, that would mean a $200 ticket and up to 10 hours of community service instead of up to 6 months in jail and a $1500 fine. That’s probably for the best. Order is an essential part of any civil society, but when crimes are defined and punishments meted out, it is important to remember that punishments must fit crimes and that the government has limited resources, especially in our current economic situation.

Six months is a long time, and it’s doubtful that possession of 10 grams of a weed that grows in ditches merits spending that much time in prison or $1500 on a fine. A great deal of possession arrests may never make it to trial, but that does nothing to address the always present possibility of that sentence.

Is smoking marijuana really that much more dangerous to your health than smoking the mixture of tobacco and tar that passes for a cigarette? Is driving while under the influence of marijuana that much more dangerous than driving after getting so drunk you can’t stand upright?

If smoking marijuana really is an issue that challenges the orderliness of society, maybe this reduced sentencing plan will help. By making offenders do community service instead of locking them away for months at a time, not only can the negative effects of incarcerating breadwinners be mitigated, but real benefits may be gained. If marijuana really is so damaging to society, maybe making offenders do something for the community’s good will repair that damage in part or give them an opportunity to learn how damaging their possession is.

Or you could consider money. It is simply too expensive to initiate and conclude legal proceedings, both where police are concerned on the street and where prosecutors and judges are concerned in the courtroom, against people whose crimes are insignificant. And when faced with a budget shortfall this year of $654 million and next year of $635 million, the city of Chicago probably cannot afford to prosecute people who have less than 10 grams of marijuana.

The money used for those prosecutions could be used better elsewhere, such as in schools. Maybe if the schools were better, drug use wouldn’t be such a “problem.”

Governments are supposed to operate for the good of their people. And with their limited resources, that means they need to prioritize their spending the same way a family needs to when one parent loses his or her job. Something will have to give. Why not give up the least important concern?