Talkin' About Chicago's Proposed Pot Ticket: The Kids Are Alright

I am the mother of a 15-year-old daughter. I'm also a public policy researcher, a professor, and a Chicago resident living in a neighborhood where neighbors worry about the impact of the drug market activities on their children and neighborhood quality of life.

The Chicago marijuana ordinance proposal was voted out of the public safety committee last Thursday. What will this mean for the parents, employees and residents of Chicago?

As a mom, one of the first concerns I would like to address regarding the Chicago marijuana is the issue of youth and drug use. If we enact tickets for marijuana possession, doesn't that send the wrong message to our kids? Don't alternative sanctions, like pot tickets, increase marijuana use?

The answer to these questions, reveled through an exhaustive survey of the literature, is simply no(1). Research demonstrates that no relationship exists between penalty structure and drug use.

Initiation to marijuana use -- that is, use by new users -- or increased use by current users, does not occur when alternative sanctions, like tickets, are enacted. Demand for drugs does not go up (2). This is supported by a number of highly respected researchers, including Peter H. Reuter, from RAND Corporation. In fact, Reuter found that in states where decriminalization had already occurred, most people were unaware that marijuana was decriminalized. Drug use trends are long and complex. They simply don't respond to changes in penalties.

One of the ways that we can truly reduce youth drug use is to use the money generated by those pot tickets is to target it towards prevention. I'm not talking about "Just Say No" or "Red-Ribbon" prevention, but prevention that is evidenced-based. Meaning, it's been evaluated and actually works. That kind of prevention does exist, and we need to be using more of it.

Another way that we can reduce demand for drug use is to use some of those pot ticket revenues and target them towards treatment. Treatment, in Illinois, has been hit by funding cuts, and treatment has been proven to reduce demand for drugs(3).

If we were to use the revenues for evidenced-based prevention efforts and expand access to treatment, the pot ticket could actually reduce demand for marijuana. The kids could be more than alright. The kids could be better off with the passage of a pot ticket.

My biggest concern about the proposed ticket comes from living in a predominantly Black and Latino neighborhood. The majority of the 20,000 individuals arrested for marijuana misdemeanors were African Americans and Latinos. And by majority I don't mean 60 or 70 or 80 percent. Ninety-five percent of those arrested for misdemeanor marijuana arrests were people of color. And most of those arrests occurred in particular neighborhoods. Neighborhoods like mine.

So, if the pot ticket passes the full city council next week, evaluation research must be conducted to ensure that this racial and geographical disparity is remedied through this initiative. Arrests should go down. This will ensure that the police can spend their time on more important matters like the increasing violence occurring over Chicago. I hope that the City of Chicago, the police, and the mayor are committed to ensuring that the ordinance will be applied fairly and justly; and that the goals of ensuring public safety are preserved by making police time on the street more effective.

It's OK. The kids really are alright.


1) Austin, 2005; MacCoun & Reuter, 1999; Miron, 2002; Boyd, 2009; MacCoun and Reuter, 2001; Williams, 2004). MacCoun, R. & Reuter, P. (2001). Evaluating alternative cannabis regimes. The British Journal of Psychiatry, 178, 123-128.

2) Austin, 2005; MacCoun & Reuter, 1999; Miron, 2002; Boyd, 2009; MacCoun and Reuter, 2001; Williams, 2004

3) Reuter, P. & Pollack, h. (2006). How much can treatment reduce national drug problems?, Addiction, 101, 341-347.