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Thursday, July 1, 2010 10:55 am

Marijuana fines going fine

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Since Springfield passed an ordinance to issue a fine for possession of less than 2.5 grams of marijuana instead of a state misdemeanor charge, 167 people have received citations. The city considers the ordinance a success.

The city ordinance came into effect Feb. 3, 2009, and gave people who were in possession of less than 2.5 grams of marijuana a $300 fine instead of charging them with a Class C misdemeanor and a maximum $1,500 fine. The ordinance, proposed by Ward 2 alderman Gail Simpson, was intended to not only help get the city out of debt, but also to be a deterrent to teens experimenting with marijuana.

“So many young people make mistakes in their lives and this shouldn’t be one of the ones that sticks with them,” Simpson said. “I hope it sends a message that there are consequences to their actions with a fine.”

There were early problems getting the ordinance working. The ordinance was passed in February 2009, but it wasn’t until January 2010 that anyone received a ticket for a violation of the city ordinance. The police department needed to switch forms to accommodate the change and train officers to use the city ordinance rather than the state statute.

 Despite those early problems, the Springfield Police Department is happy with the route the ordinance has taken.

“It’s been going really well,” said Springfield Chief of Police Robert Williams. “It’s [the city ordinance] a nice in-between ground between an arrest and a fine.”

Williams is also pleased with the deterring effect that the law can have for teens who are caught with marijuana, since the fine will not become part of the person’s criminal record.

“It’s a pretty good ordinance,” Williams said. “An awful lot of these people are young people and they are just experimenting with cannabis and this is a good detractor. The good thing is it [the fine] doesn’t add a social stigma.”

Since the first usage of the city ordinance in January, 167 people have received a citation, while only 61 people have been arrested under the state statute for possession of under 2.5 grams of marijuana. Many of these arrests occurred because of accompanying charges instead of solely because of possession of marijuana.

When a person receives a citation for possession of less than 2.5 grams of marijuana or any marijuana paraphernalia, he or she must appear in front of a judge, where they can plead guilty and pay the fine or try to fight the charges.

“It works just like a parking ticket,” Williams said.

What’s next for marijuana laws in Springfield?

“A lot depends on what the city council wants to do,” Williams said. “If we have a different council, we could change it or go back to the state statute. It comes down to what the aldermen feel. Perhaps we can talk about it and raise it [the 2.5-gram cutoff] to five in the future.”

“I see it hopefully acting as a deterrent for the youth and building revenue for the city,” Simpson said. “It’s a win-win.”

Contact Jackson Adams at jadams@illinoistimes.com.

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