With its Home Rule powers, the Crystal Lake City Council signaled a majority is ready to change possession of up to thirty joints from a criminal to a civil offense.
Mayor Aaron Shepley led the opposition with Councilwomen Cathy Ferguson, a social worker, bringing her day job experience to bear. Joining the three in opposition was Brett Hopkins, who said he saw it “in terms of black and white.”
The proposal, basically to decriminalize marijuana, following the example set by Chicago last month, was presented by Crystal Lake Police Chief Dave Linder after testimony from opponents and proponents.
His proposal “to allow Police to issue tickets for possession of small amounts of cannibals” was based on cost savings to the Department.
He pointed to Woodstock and McHenry as two local cities who had already gone the civil violation route.
Linder insisted his proposal “doesn’t represent softening of Police Department attitude toward drug enforcement,” but would “allow more flexibility…a more efficient option.”
Mayor Shepley came loaded for bear.
While complementing the Chief for bringing forth a proposal that the Chief thought would make law enforcement more efficient,” Shepley said that “at the end of the day what we have a a good old fashioned policy decision in a way that could have consequences.”
He then played show and tell, holding up two jars of parsley containing a total of 28 grams. Possession of more than 30 grams would still be a felony, but in Crystal Lake, if the ordinance passes, the possessor would get a ticket.
“That is not a small amount,” Shepley argued.
Councilwoman Ellen Brady Mueller, one of three members of the CLCHS Class of 1981, according to classmate Shepley (the other being Hopkins), said,”You could make a lot more thar 20 [joints].
“We’re not going to go soft on drugs,” Linder interjected. “It gives the officer the availability to use another [option]. We do the same thing for alcohol, synthetic drugs [and] disorderly conduct. In terms of time management, it’s not fiscally responsible [to arrest people for possession under 30 grams].”
Linder that a large percentage of misdemeanor charges were dismissed by the McHenry County State’s Attorney to which Shepley that perhaps Crystal Lake officials “need to have a discussion with the State’s Attorney’s Office.”
The Mayor also pointed out that the State had no criminal offense for synthetic drugs, so Crystal Lake’s passage of a ticketing offense was more stringent than state law, not less, as the issuing of tickets for marijuana would be.
Comparing ticketing for underage use of alcohol to Lidner’s proposal, Shepley drew a distinction between a drug which is legal for those over 21 and one “our legislature has determined that no matter how old you are you can’t have it.
“My fear with this is that we’re sending a message.
“If you are smart [enough] not to carry more than a certain amount of drugs, there is no possibility of jail time.
“I’m not in favor of this,” Shepley concluded.
Next up was Cathy Ferguson.
She zeroed in on arguments that it would cover “youthful indiscretions.”
“This does not cover juvenile cases, right?”
Ferguson, who works as a social worker, explained, “I treat kids with substance abuse. I’m seeing these gets getting their drugs from their parents.
“I agree with you in principle, Aaron, that we’re sending a [bad] message.
“Marijuana of today is not the marijuana [of my youth]. A lot of other substances are cut into marijuana.
“When I look at statements that marijuana hurts no one [asserted by one proponent to the Council], that’s a falsehood.
“I prefer there be jail time attached.”
Ferguson then went after the discretion that the ordinance gives police officers.
“[For] one joint jail time is not warranted.
“Thirty joints deserves jail time.
“There’s too much wiggle room [in the ordinance.”
Introducing a new aspect was Ralph Dawson.
“Nothing I’ve seen that David [Linder] has presented that the Department’s doing this for monetary reasons,” he said.
“I believe it will give a lot of people a second chance,” he continued.
“I see nothing negative here…better than hitting [youth] over the head.”
“Actually, I was going to move this to [be] discussion only,” Brett Hopkins said.
“It’s a difficult subject. I’m pretty black and white. The drugs are illegal. End of story.”
He compares it with enforcement of the sign ordinance.
Carolyn Schofield was next.
“I don’t think this stems from a moral issue.
“If it helps the Police Department–I really believe in him–I want to support him in this,” Schofield said.
The last to express his opinion was Jeff Thorsen.
“I think the Chief is the expert on the situation.
“We do have the right to put this into play.
“We set the law.
“Discretion – they think about that everyday.
I don’t thing a $500 to a $1,000 penalty is a minor penalty.
“If the Chief thinks we’re pulling one-third of our officers off the street, the [Chief is making sense].”
In rebuttal to Schofield, who had argued that consequences are not going to change what people do, Shepley observed, “That’s hat our criminal system is all about.. I would respectfully disagree.
“I think it’s absolutely the wrong way to go.”
He pointed out that he has been “insistent with things we have done to preserve the character of Crystal Lake.”
Mueller pointed out that the Council had “changed possession of liquor possession.”
Shepley repeated his argument that liquor was a legal drug, while marijuana was not.
Ferguson also weighed in on the “consequences” debate.
She pointed to why people pay income taxes.
“It comes down to no one wants to mess with them.”
“I’m trying to keep a level playing field. If you have a better lawyer, you have a better chance of getting off.”
She repeated her concern that there was too much “wiggle room.”
Before the Council voted, Schofield expressed the opinion that the Council could “look at different levels.”
The first motion was to kill the ordinance.
Shepley, Ferguson and Hopkins voted to keep the status quo.
Mueller, Dawson, Schofield and Thorsen voted to change the criminal penalties to civil ones.
Then Mueller seemed to second Schofield’s idea to lower the threshold for a pot ticket. She suggested 15.
After than the Council agreed to table the proposal until the Police Department had a chance to consider the consequences of some in between proposal.