Are Marijuana Laws Discriminatory in Illinois?

The legalization of marijuana is a hot topic in today’s news media.  It may not all be hype for those who simply want to see it legalized for recreational or medicinal use.  The ACLU has recently reported that there appears to be racial disparity in marijuana arrests in Illinois.  Illinois law remains strict for violating marijuana laws and penalties can depend on the amount of the substance found in your possession and whether you are charged with intent to distribute.  Who is being targeted by alleged selective enforcement of the laws could impact how you fight for your rights if accused of violating the law.

ACLU Report

The American Civil Liberties Union reports that national arrests for marijuana law violations have been on the rise in recent years, with Illinois leading the way.  In fact, there were 50,000 marihuana arrests in 2010, with the staggering majority of those (98%) being for possession alone.

The ACLU analysis of the data reveals that the rise in these arrests is a matter of race because racial minorities are being targeted specifically.  This conclusion is drawn from statistics showing that African Americans are 8 times more likely than whites to be arrested for possession of marijuana.  Although use of the substance may be equal across racial groups, the ACLU postulates that enforcement of the laws is racially discriminatory.

The ACLU’s numbers put Illinois as the fourth highest rate of race disparity for marijuana arrests in the country.  Cook County, however, leads the nation in most marijuana possession arrests.  Looking at 2010 alone, Cook County had 33,000 arrests for marijuana possession.  Although blacks only make up 25% of the County’s population, they made up nearly 73% for those arrested for the crime.

The impact of the high number of arrests also has an economic impact that is being unfairly apportioned to one segment of the population.  Aside from the arrest statistics, the ACLU also reports that the cost of enforcing marijuana laws in Illinois is $221 million.  Further, the individual impact of being targeted for this offense could have far reaching consequences—like being denied a job, housing, or financial aid as a student.

Chicago’s Efforts

Lawmakers in Chicago have been aware of this issue and attempted to curtail the discriminatory impact felt by the African-American community by essentially decriminalizing marijuana within the Municipality.  Last year, the City Counsel voted to give police discretion as to whether an arrest or merely a citation would be issued for a minor marijuana offense.  Under the ordinance, a person may posses up to 15 grams of marijuana before it a citation is no longer an option.  The option for a citation doesn’t apply when the violation occurs in a school or public park.

Whether you are in Chicago or elsewhere in Illinois, being charged with possession of marijuana is still a serious offense.  The charge may also be the result of racial profiling.   To ensure your rights are protected to the highest degree, contact a qualified Illinois Criminal Defense Attorney for more information or representation.

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