Ticketing for pot? It’s been the practice in the ‘burbs
"Kate" of DuPage County displays a bud of hydroponic marijuana that she smoked during an interview. | Sun-Times Media
Updated: August 6, 2012 11:35AM
Chicago, having passed an ordinance June 27 to allow tickets for possession of small amounts of marijuana, has joined a big Illinois club, founded in suburbia more than 30 years ago.
Local cops say they, too, save time by writing tickets instead of always pressing state charges. And those cited are less likely to rue the day they were caught, when applying for a job or to college.
But it’s not a panacea.
The stakes for those charged under state law were described last fall by Richard Mosley Jr., a pastor at Hemenway United Methodist Church in Evanston, when that city finally joined the pot-ticket club.
A criminal conviction for marijuana can block a young person “from opportunities you normally would have,” he said.
“We all make mistakes, and sometimes we need assistance overcoming the barriers to enable us to move forward.”
The use of traffic-ticket like citations doesn’t mean the problems of a youthful dope smoker are ignored, said Dr. John Conlin, Northfield Police psychologist. If a youth gets a Northfield marijuana ticket, his parents are likely to get a call or letter from Conlin.
“It makes perfect sense ... because then, I can make contact with them or their parents, and we can see whether he needs help, or it’s just experimentation,” he said.
“So parents can put their efforts into evaluating what’s going on with their sons and daughters, rather than spending it all on attorneys and legal fees.”
It might be wise to get a lawyer anyway, said Shelley Sutker-Dermer, presiding judge of the Second Municipal District Circuit Court of Cook County.
Though a paid ticket won’t show up in normal background checks, it doesn’t disappear. It’s there for all to see who stroll over to the computers in her courthouse.
That information is highly unlikely to interfere in an application to Harvard or Abbott Labs. But those with designs on a political career might want to try to get supervision so the ticket can be easily expunged.
Better yet, she said, in Skokie, young people ticketed on a variety of offenses are invited to get on a fast-track to a dismissal by the village prosecutor, followed by expungement.
The kids, under 18, go to court, but the idea is that they get whatever help they need, and if they get through their programs, Skokie drops their tickets. The paperwork is automatically sent to Sutker-Dermer for expungement.
“Deferred prosecution is our goal, not to hammer the kids,” Skokie Asst. Corporation Council Barbara Mangler said Friday. “The most important thing about our program is early intervention.”
Skokie’s Youth Outreach Program began in 1998.
Those who get tickets in Glencoe have programs available to them, too, but there aren’t as many employees around Glencoe Village Hall to prepare expungements, Deputy Public Safety Chief Alan Kebby said Monday. He’s looking for a way to speed up the process.
Glencoe has long used tickets, but it’s only for two years that cops can write them on the street and drive away, Chicago-style.
And as Glencoe non-criminal pot tickets are reserved for first offenders, if they’re expunged, “how do we know if they’re repeat offenders?” Kebby asked.
Mangler said in most cases, no problem.
“Though it may be expunged, we do have memories,” she said.
She said that may not always be the case, however, because people don’t necessarily get ticketed in their own towns.
Generally, tickets tend to save time for suburban departments with few available officers.
“Citing an offender with a local ordinance definitely reduces the amount of time the officer is off the street,” Wilmette Police Chief Brian King said.
“Allowing the officers to immediately assess a fine on the street can be more effective than sending that same individual to court, where the case may not receive any attention or may be thrown out.”
Lincolnshire Police Cmdr. Gregory Duffey said marijuana is not particularly prevalent in his town.
“Most of our marijuana (incidents) are on traffic stops, people passing through.”
This year, Lincolnshire has had 16 marijuana cases, mostly resulting in citations. Last year, there were 34, down from 44 in 2010, 75 in 2009, 77 in 2008 and 68 in 2007.
“It simplifies the process,” Glencoe Chief of Public Safety Mike Volling said Friday. “If you’ve got an individual who’s cooperative, and you think you can alter his behavior, that he can learn his lesson through payment of a small fine, he moves on — as opposed to giving him a state charge, and now he’s got a criminal record.”
For most of the departments, if the amount of marijuana involved is small enough, it’s up to patrol officers who gets a ticket and who gets a state misdemeanor charge.
In Winnetka, eight people were arrested on state charges last year, Deputy Police Chief Joseph Pellus said Friday. Eleven tickets were issued.
Many people don’t know their towns ticket for marijuana, and if they do, they don’t squawk, officials say.
“We’ve been doing that for 30 years here without any community backlash,” Deerfield Police Cmdr. Rick Weil said.
In Deerfield, an offender can be in possession of almost an ounce of marijuana and still get just a ticket.
The Park Ridge Police Department addresses marijuana possession on a case-by-case basis, factoring in the amount of suspected marijuana, the age of the individual and prior contacts and arrests associated with drug possession, Deputy Police Chief Lou Jogmen said.
“Our goal is restorative justice, and we want to get people to the right way of thinking for themselves and for their health,” he said.
Normally, small amounts of marijuana warrant a local ordinance citation, which requires the offender to appear before the city’s adjudication hearing officer, Jogmen said. That officer can then impose fines of $500 to $1,000 per violation or assign community service. For offenders under age 21, the hearing officer can require attendance in a substance-abuse program.
Some departments mostly use state charges, and tickets just for first-timers. Other departments are more liberal.
“The fine amount for our possession of cannabis tickets is $100, but it can increase with subsequent occurrences,” Glenview Police Sgt. David Sostak said in an e-mail Tuesday. “A person written an ordinance ticket can either pay the fine or request a court date.”
Carrying a gram or less of marijuana does not guarantee a ticket instead of a state charge, even with a clean rap sheet. If you’re driving with a suspended license, for instance, you may not get off so easy.
“(If) the person is being charged with another, unrelated state charge in addition to cannabis possession, we would most likely go with a state charge, to keep the entire arrest in one court system,” Highland Park Deputy Police Chief David L. Schwarz said by e-mail.
At last fall’s Evanston hearing, the long-time head of Peer Services Inc. — a local agency helping young people beat substance abuse — recommended notification to parents after teens are ticketed. That way, they can get help.
Kate Mahoney said that with decreased risk, “we might end up with increased use by adolescents and adults.”
Parental notification is the practice in Northfield, and “I don’t know if we’ve run into anyone ... a second or third time,” Conlin said.
Contributing: Jennifer Johnson, Pat Krochmal, Karen Berkowitz, Bob Seidenberg, Charles Berman, Bridget O’Shea