The marijuana policy is set to loosen slightly in Galesburg. Taking effect today — a recommendation from the City Council — this new legislation will effect the treatment of persons caught with under 2.5 grams of marijuana. Under this practice, police officers will have to option to fine an individual $300, rather than arrest the offender.
This is a great start toward achieving a more enlightened stance on marijuana policy, but more needs to be done.
The city is correct that the new policy will generate some much needed revenue, but in reality this change stands to do much more. In particular, giving officers the choice to fine an individual rather than send them into the justice system allows for our courts and prisons not to be overrun with people who are solely incarcerated for marijuana possession.
A report from just a couple weeks ago revealed that Illinois’ largest inmate intake facility in Springfield is currently facing massive instances of overcrowding. This is a problem occurring all over the nation, one that can be partially alleviated by changing how we deal with non-violent drug offenders. In addition to all the revenue generated by the fines themselves, the city will benefit financially from having fewer people running through the courts and prison.
While I am certainly in favor of this policy change, it definitely does not go far enough. Decriminalization is an excellent step for any city or state that is looking to better their marijuana laws. Under decriminalization, the only option for officers who come in contact with an individual possessing — a small amount with no intent to distribute — marijuana is a fine. This policy would be a step up from the current recommendation because it takes away the option to arrest the individual.
In addition, the idea behind decriminalization is to allow officers to focus on other, more important, areas of crime and drug use. In other words, marijuana violations would cease to be a priority of the city officers during their daily routines. The current recommendation does not mention any change of focus for the officers. It may seem like splitting hairs, but this distinction is very important if one truly wants to progress and see an end to more serious crimes.
Obviously, we are living in a changing time of marijuana policy across the states and the globe, so the long term effects on states and individuals as a result of these changes remain to be seen. However, Colorado — the first state to establish legislation legalizing marijuana for recreational use — sold $5 million worth of cannabis in just the first week of business with estimates that the state should generate around $70 million of tax revenue from the industry by the end of the year.
This “vice” revenue — just like the money that comes from taxes on tobacco, alcohol and gambling — provides a new opportunity for states and the nation as a whole to shore up budget shortfalls. With about half of all drug arrests being marijuana related, there is clearly a large burden on the justice system that could easily be turned into a new stream of revenue.
Thankfully, the Galesburg City Council did take the recommendation to change their policy seriously, even though this change does not go far enough. This small change is the first step to having a more liberalized policy on marijuana that will benefit the city greatly, and better yet the change should have little to no effect on the average citizen. Both here at Knox and in Galesburg, life as usual will go on — except with a little extra money in the city’s pocket and fewer people facing jail time for simple possession.