Are you ready for marijuana?
By Sarah Murray
Chicago in the roaring twenties was America’s hotbed of crime, dissidence, and social upheaval, and some believe it was the illegal status of alcohol that led to this rise in crime.
Today, marijuana is the drug of choice for over 1,027,000 Illinois residents, according to a 2007 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. But despite reports of its relative harmlessness and effectiveness in preventing and treating disease, pot continues to be stigmatized, and today’s gangs are just as dangerous as Al Capone’s.
In November, Chicago aldermen proposed legislation that would decriminalize possession of up to ten grams of weed. Instead of arrest and costly jail time, offenders would receive a two hundred dollar fine and up to five hours of community service.
In an informal poll, we asked Chicagoans about their views on decriminalization.
We found that all but one of the ten respondents agreed that decriminalization would benefit Chicago at large.
In 2010 alone, the federal government spent over 15 billion dollars fighting the production, consumption, and distribution of illegal drugs, while the state of Illinois spent around half a billion. In this time of recession, people seem to think that this money could be better spent elsewhere.
“It’s a waste of money to throw someone in jail for something petty like that,” 20-year old student Sara Reyna says.
But cutting down on the state’s budget is insufficient for some citizens.
Loyola student Brendan Burns, 20, would prefer that the government not interfere in our personal lives at all. “Decriminalization would restore trust in a government many people believe is over-extending its role,” he says.
The United States has the highest amount of incarcerated citizens of any nation in the world, and this number increases by approximately 43,000 each year.
According to the U.S. Department of Justice Drug Use Forecasting Study, 82% of Chicago area police tested positive for illicit drugs.
While Burns sees drugs use as a private, individual matter, Michael Ryva thinks it is a social health problem. He explained, “Drug addicts in our current system are sent to over-crowded jails where they receive little or no help for their condition.”
Another responder, Paul Guziewski, a 19-year-old student, agrees that is it a medical issue, stating, “Problems with drugs use are a result off addiction, not criminal activity.”
However, some Chicago residents do see marijuana users as criminals. Anna Barrson is concerned that decriminalization will allow criminals to remain on the streets. “Instead of going to jail and paying for what they did,” she says, “they’re just going to pay it off… and they can get the money easily, by distributing.”
Many people seem to share the viewpoint of business strategist Kevin Sapp when he says that people are ready for decriminalization.
“There will be lots of differences of opinion… and drama initially,” he says, “but it definitely is the right thing for Chicago.”
Sarah Murray is the multimedia editor. She can be reached at email@example.com.