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DeKalb considering lower marijuana fine

DeKALB – The DeKalb City Council could be relaxing how much people have to pay if they are caught with small amounts of marijuana in the city.

A proposal before the City Council would drop the minimum fine for people caught with 2.5 grams or less of marijuana from $750 to $350 if they choose to “mail-in” their violation.

The proposal is being touted as a way to reduce demand on DeKalb police and to encourage “more efficient use” of the legal system. Currently, people caught with small amounts of marijuana face a fine of $750 to $1,000 have the choice to mail-in their violation or go to court. If the defendant goes to court, they have to pay an additional $360 in court costs.

City Manager Mark Biernacki said he is hoping the reduced fine of $350 creates an incentive for defendants to just use the mail-in process. City documents described the current process as being too convoluted to collect only $1,100.

“Oftentimes, offenders are going through the circuit court system and collecting fees and the fines,” Biernacki said. “It seems to be a very ineffective use of the officers’ time.”

The DeKalb police agree. A memo on the proposal notes that it was originally suggested by a DeKalb police officer, and it has the backing of both the city’s police and legal departments.

Police Chief Eugene Lowery described the proposal as being another tool for officers on the streets, noting that they have the choice of arresting someone or fining them under the city ordinances. But he added there were other factors, too.

“On our officers, there is a heavy workload, which can increase by demands to testify in court,” Lowery said.

He didn’t want to downplay the significance of the offense, but Lowery added the department has to “dedicate its resources to more important things.” He said an amount of marijuana less than 2.5 grams is usually for personal use, not for distribution.

Both Biernacki and Lowery said people will be charged under the regular state statutes if they possess more than 2.5 grams of marijuana.

In 2011, DeKalb police recorded 286 marijuana violations and 136 drug paraphernalia violations. To date in 2012, police have recorded 308 marijuana violations and 203 for drug paraphernalia. Lowery said these are for all drug violations, regardless of amount, and they are offenses, not arrests.

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