Vice Squad
Monday, November 01, 2004
Chicago Suburbs That Have "Decriminalized" Pot

There has been a lot of talk lately in Chicago about ticketing (as opposed to arresting) people who are found to have a little bit of marijuana on them. Today's Chicago Tribune has one of those front-page-on-Monday stories (registration required) about some Chicago suburbs that have gone the ticketing route for some time now. The article starts by telling the tale of a driver and two passengers who were stopped in the Chicago suburb of Wilmette for a "minor traffic violation":
A Wilmette officer searched the vehicle and discovered a small bag of marijuana--about one joint's worth--in the glove compartment.

If a Chicago police officer had stopped them, they could have been arrested, fingerprinted and assigned a court date.

Instead, each received the equivalent of a parking ticket, a $100 fine under a village ordinance regarding the possession of less than 10 grams of marijuana.
While the driver is happy that he didn't get arrested, what gets my goat is that no one in the article mentions how absurd the search was in the first place. Presumably this was a "consent search", where at some point during the discussion of the minor violation the officer asked for permission to search the car, and the permission was granted (as it almost always is). Why would the officer bother searching if there's just a small fine for marijuana possession? To concatenate my presumptions, I'll suggest that what the officer was hoping for was to find a significant pile of some illegal drug, i.e., to make a "major drug bust." So here are a few folks driving home after dinner, who aren't actually doing anything wrong (the traffic stop was probably pretextual, undertaken solely to yield a search), who nevertheless end up having their automobile rifled through by an armed agent of the law. This scenario has become so common that no one in today's story even bothers to point out the irrationality of the entire episode. These unwarranted (literally) assaults on our freedoms seem to be accepted as part of the background, as Just The Way Things Are. Such searches should be intolerable, yet somehow, they are tolerated, and we are even pleased to find that we are "only" fined when some unapproved substance turns up.

Decrimwatch comments on the Trib story, too.

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