Emotions ran high Tuesday night as city leaders and members of the public discussed a proposed amendment allowing Crystal Lake police officers to issue tickets to offenders caught with less than 30 grams of marijuana.
The citation would replace a misdemeanor arrest, which some city leaders said would send the wrong signal to would-be marijuana users.
"My fear with this is that we're sending a message that if you are smart enough not to carry a large amount of drugs, you will be treated no differently than if you get a traffic ticket," Crystal Lake Mayor Aaron Shepley said.
While it appeared the majority of the council would approve the measure, council member Ellen Brady Mueller suggested tabling the vote until Police Chief David Linder could look into changing provisions from 30 to 15 grams of marijuana.
Shepley said 30 grams is "not a small amount of marijuana."
Linder, calling the amendment "another tool in the tool box," for police officers recommended the council amend the city's Possession of Cannabis law to eliminate the lengthy process that accompanies such arrests and keep more officers in the street.
"The arrest process can take hours and involves two police officers," Linder told council members Tuesday night. "On average, we only have 15 officers per shift patrolling our city. Taking two of those officers away at any one time has an impact."
Individuals arrested for possession of marijuana must be transported to the police station for processing and finger printing. Linder said the process is time-consuming and not fiscally reponsible.
"This would give our officers a civil remedy as opposed to a criminal remedy," Linder told council members. "And this (amendment) doesn't pre-empt any other charges brought against an offender."
Under Illinois law, possessing less than 30 grams of cannabis is a misdemeanor offense and possession of more than 30 grams of the drug is considered a felony, according to city documents.
In 2011, Crystal Lake Police made more than 50 arrests for misdemeanor "possession of marijuana" offenses.
The proposed amendment awards police officers the discretion as to whether they would make an arrest or issue a citation in such cases. Tickets would carry a minimum fine of $500 and maximum fee of $1,000.
Crystal Lake resident Paul Greenlee spoke against the measure.
"In my mind, this is 10 steps backwards," Greenlee said. "...In my mind, this sets a bad example."
Stanley Feltz, also of Crystal Lake, spoke in favor of the proposed change.
"If a young person gets arrested for having marijuana, they'll have that arrest record for life," Feltz said. "As far as I'm concerned, I think marijuana should be legal...everyone has their own morals."
Linder told the council that several area police departments have enacted similar ordinances including Chicago, Wilmettee, Downers Grove, McHenry and Woodstock. Linder contacted commanders at the McHenry and Woodstock police departments who said they've had no negative impact by amending their ordinances.