Ticketing for pot? It’s been the practice in the ‘burbs
Bags containing 22 pounds of marijuana are displayed at the Park Ridge Police Station in February 2010 following a large-scale arrest. Most Park Ridge arrests for marijuana possession involve small amounts. | Jennifer Johnson~Sun-Times Media
Updated: August 13, 2012 6:35AM
Chicago, having passed an ordinance late last month 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 Council Barbara Mangler said Friday. “The most important thing about our program is early intervention.”
Skokie’s Youth Outreach Program began in 1998.
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, explained Deputy Police Chief Lou Jogmen.
“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.
Normally, small amounts of marijuana warrant a local ordinance citation, which requires the offender to appear before the city’s adjudication hearing officer, Jogmen said. That officer can then impose fines of $500 to $1,000 per violation or assign community service. For offenders younger than 21, the hearing officer can require attendance in a substance-abuse program.
Usually state charges, which require the posting of bond and appearance in Cook County Circuit Court, are imposed when the amount of marijuana exceeds 30 grams. But repeat offenders, even those found with a small amount of marijuana, can also face state charges, Jogmen indicated.
“There is no black and white, no set policy to determine which person gets which,” he said. “It’s clearly determined based on circumstances, the age and the quantity.”
Jogmen added: “In our practice, we reserve the local ordinance citations for very small amounts.”
The city’s Municipal Code defines “simple possession” as under 30 grams of marijuana.
In neighboring Niles local ordinance citations are normally issued in cases in which less than 2 grams of marijuana are seized, said Police Sgt. Robert Tornabene. Anything under 10 grams can also warrant a citation, but officers have discretion and may file state charges if the suspect has a criminal history or is carrying a large amount of money that may indicate drug dealing, Tornabene said.
A marijuana offense combined with another crime will result in a state charge, as well, he added.
Tornabene said the Police Department averages about two local ordinance citations per month for marijuana possession and generally issues more citations than state charges yearly.
“It’s probably more local ordinance citations because the vast majority (of offenses) we are coming across are well-under 5 grams on average,” he said.
Issuing a citation and writing up the police report can take between 30 and 45 minutes. Those who are issued the citation are required to appear before an adjudication hearing officer who can impose fines, community service or a combination of the two.
Morton Grove does not have a local drug ordinance and all cases where arrests are made, suspects are charged under state law and must appear in Cook County Circuit Court.
“We follow the state law,” said Paul Yaras, Morton Grove police commander.
Under state law, possession of less than 2.5 grams of marijuana is a Class C misdemeanor, Yaras said. Bond for those offenses is automatically set at $90.
For possession of larger amounts, Class A or B charges, bond is $150.
Yaras said the village has so far not looked at the possibility of creating a local ordinance that would allow officers to issue court-appearance tickets.
“We have not really tackled that yet,” he said. “We just have not gotten to that.”
But Yaras said like with other offenses, such as traffic violations, officers have the discretion to release someone without charges. If an officer does release someone in possession of marijuana, Yaras said the officer still confiscates the drug and brings it back to the police station to be destroyed.
Some departments mostly use state charges, and tickets just for first-timers. Other departments are more liberal.
“The fine amount for our possession of cannabis tickets is $100, but it can increase with subsequent occurrences,” Glenview Police Sgt. David Sostak said in an e-mail. “A person written an ordinance ticket can either pay the fine or request a court date.”
— Contributing: Jennifer Johnson, Pat Krochmal, Karen Berkowitz, Bob Seidenberg, Charles Berman and Bridget O’Shea.