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Chicago Citizens Speak About Decriminalization of Drugs

The city of Chicago in the roaring twenties was America’s hotbed of crime, dissidence, and social upheaval. 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.

“Joints,” rolled marijuana cigarettes, may no longer be a criminal offense if decriminalization legislation is passed. (Flickr/Torben Bjorn Hansen)

Aldermen see possible solution

In November, Chicago aldermen proposed legislation that would:

  1. Decriminalize possession of up to ten grams of weed.
  2. Punish offenders would receive a two hundred dollar fine and
  3. Give them up to five hours of community service.

In an informal poll, we asked Chicagoans, “What is your view on decriminalization?” We found that all but one of the ten respondents agreed that decriminalization would benefit Chicago.

A pricy war

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 said.

But the state’s budget is just one part of a larger problem 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 said.

Social, not criminal, problem

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, agreed that is it a medical issue, stating, “Problems with drugs use are a result off addiction, not criminal activity.”

Decriminalization leads to distribution?

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, they’re just going to pay it off,” she says. “They can get the money easily, by distributing.”

Chicago is ready

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.”

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The Hub Bub is a collection of articles, videos, audio, photo slideshows, interactive maps and other media produced by students enrolled in journalism courses at Loyola University Chicago's School of Communication. For more about the School of Communication, our award winning faculty, and our state of the art facilities located in the heart of Chicago, visit our website.