Tisdahl proposes no jail time for marijuana possession of less than 10 grams

Marshall Cohen

Evanston Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl officially asked the city’s legal department Friday to create an ordinance that would eliminate the possibility of jail time for anyone caught possessing less than 10 grams of marijuana.

The current law states that anyone found to possess between 2.5 and 10 grams of marijuana could be ticketed, fined up to $1,500 and jailed for potentially as long as six months.

“I do not want young people in Evanston who do not have access to high-powered attorneys to have arrest records for possessing less than 10 grams,” Tisdahl said in an email to the Chicago Tribune. “I want them to have jobs. A ticket and a fine will suffice.”

The change would only affect people who do not intend to sell the Schedule I drug.

Alds. Judy Fiske (1st) and Jane Grover (7th) did not return calls for comment Monday.

Reaction on campus has been mixed. Some students, such as SESP sophomore John Cowgill, believe the mayor has taken a step in the right direction.

“I agree with the mayor and think this is another example of people’s changing opinion on the issue of marijuana,” Cowgill said. But students like Weinberg sophomore Eitezaz Mahmood are still wary of relaxing marijuana laws.

“A healthy society should have laws that reflect our moral standards,” Mahmood said.

Illinois is no stranger to an evolving marijuana policy. In May, a bill that would create a pilot program for medial marijuana in Illinois fell just seven votes short of passage in the Illinois General Assembly.

The Marijuana Policy Project, based in Washington D.C., lobbies for marijuana decriminalization and the elimination of penalties for medical and non-medial cannabis use. Morgan Fox, the group’s communications manager, said the Illinois medical marijuana bill will be reintroduced during the current legislative session.

Advocacy groups such as the Illinois chapter of the National Organization to Reform Marijuana Laws, or NORML, welcomed Mayor Tisdahl’s announcement. Dan Linn, executive director of Illinois NORML, said the mayor’s new position on marijuana represents positive movement on the issue but does not go far enough.

“I’m very excited that Evanston is moving in this direction,” Linn said. “But we would like to see all criminal penalties removed for responsible cannabis use, but this is definitely a step in the right direction and it is much more in tune to people’s feelings towards cannabis use.”

But not all advocacy organizations in Illinois feel the same way. The Illinois Family Institute is strongly opposed to any attempts to lessen drug penalties, said David Smith, its executive director.

“Isn’t 10 grams a lot? That’s enough for 25 joints,” Smith said. “The fines need to have teeth. The minimum should be $500, not $50. If you could pay a smaller fine for possessing marijuana than a moving violation, then there is a problem.”

Conversely, Fox said it is “entirely reasonable” to have 10 grams of marijuana.

“You could possibly make 25 small joints out of 10 grams, but most likely not,” Fox said. “For patients using medical marijuana in Illinois – even though it is illegal – 10 grams might even be less than their daily dose.”

The next step in the process is for a city committee to study the proposed ordinance once the staff drafts it, Tisdahl said.

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