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Wednesday, Feb. 11, 2009 02:20 pm

Marijuana fines to help city finances

Minor drug offenses no longer criminal

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Now that Ward 2 Ald. Gail Simpson pushed through an ordinance that classifies minor drug charges as city code violations instead of as criminal offenses, what effect will it have on Springfield?

Simpson introduced the measure to help fill the city’s $12.5 million gap in the fiscal year 2010 budget. Instead of referring such charges as possession of less than 2.5 grams of cannabis, drug paraphernalia and tobacco by a minor to the Sangamon County State’s Attorney’s office for prosecution, the city will collect fines from offenders.

“These were revenues that were before going to the county,” Simpson says. “Now all of them will be coming to the city.”

The alderman said it wasn’t yet clear how many dollars the change would generate, but David Durall, deputy clerk at the Sangamon County Circuit Clerk’s office, offered Illinois Times potential insight.

According to his figures, 229 cases involving the two misdemeanor drug charges were filed between Jan. 1 and Dec. 31, 2008. So far, fines varying from $100 to $750 have been imposed in 112 of the cases — the rest were dismissed or have not appeared in court — totaling $46,165. No tobacco charges were filed during that period, Durall says.

The new ordinance calls for a minimum fine of $300 for the three violations. Selling tobacco to a minor is also now defined as a city code violation and set at a $500 minimum fine.

Simpson hopes that the transition will reduce the number of juvenile arrests, but stresses that it won’t let them off free-and-clear. If youth are caught with the illegal items, they’ll be taken to the police department or their parents will be called to pick them up at the scene. The ordinance relies on officer discretion, so repeat juvenile offenders or those charged with several offenses can still be referred to the state’s attorney’s office, she adds.

The ordinance change isn’t entirely new for Springfield. Underage drinking and disorderly conduct are two other city code violations that can be referred to the state’s attorney’s office when warranted.