Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Tuesday urged Illinois lawmakers to decriminalize the possession of less than 15 grams of marijuana. He also pushed for a statewide penalty reduction from felony to misdemeanor for those caught with 1 gram or less of a controlled substance.
“It doesn’t make sense that one arrest for a very small amount of a controlled substance can lead to a lifetime of struggles, sending people in and out of prison and putting up barriers to get a job or finding a place to live. We need action from Springfield," Emanuel said in a statement, per the Chicago Tribune.
The mayor testified Tuesday at a legislative hearing before the House-Senate Joint Criminal Reform Committee, which is looking for ways to ease overcrowding in the state's prisons and jails and to reduce racial disparities in sentencing which disproportionately affect blacks and Latinos.
To push for softer pot penalties is also part of a strategy to get lawmakers to strengthen penalties for gun crimes, Chicago news outlet WGN reports. Emanuel has faced consistent criticism for the rate of gun violence in Chicago since he became mayor in 2011.
Emanuel has previously argued that easing up on drug arrests frees up police to tackle gun crimes and other, more pressing issues.
In 2012, Emanuel successfully lobbied the Chicago City Council to pass an ordinance decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana within the city limits.
Two years on, however, the ordinance giving Chicago police the discretion to issue $250 to $500 tickets for possession of 15 grams or less of pot is considered a failure. Arrests for marijuana possession actually increased, despite police having an option to ticket offenders, and the city collected just $67,256 of the $310,755 in fines levied in the first year of the program, the Chicago Sun-Times reports.
Illinois currently has a pilot program in place for legal medical marijuana use.