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DeKalb's marijuana measure moves ahead

Published: Tuesday, Dec. 11, 2012 5:30 a.m. CDT • Updated: Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2012 6:38 p.m. CDT

DeKALB – The DeKalb City Council gave an initial OK to a proposal to reduce the mail-in penalties of being caught with a small amount of marijuana.

Under the proposal, a person caught with 2.5 grams or less of marijuana would pay a $350 fine if they plead guilty and mail in a payment. Mailing in their plea allows the defendant to bypass a court appearance if they do so within 21 days.

Monday’s unanimous vote was not final action. The proposal merely cleared the council’s Committee of the Whole.

City officials are hoping the reduced fine will be an incentive for defendants to use the mail-in process if they are caught with 2.5 grams or less. City Attorney Dean Frieders said DeKalb police use the city ordinance to deal with “low-impact crime” and compliant offenders.

“The circumstances in which one is engaged in the behavior are a very private fashion that does not have a significant impact,” Frieders said.

Currently, people have to pay $750 if they choose to bypass court and admit guilt. However, Frieders said many people have trouble getting $750 in a three-week time period. If they are taken to trial and found guilty, it could be months or years before the city sees all of the money, he said.

DeKalb Police Chief Gene Lowery, whose department suggested and backed the ordinance, said the incentive of a lower fine for mail-in violations will reduce the burden on his officers.

A lot of Monday’s debate occurred over whether a mail-in for violating this ordinance would fall under the city’s new disorderly house provision. Aldermen David Jacobson and Dave Baker, of the First and Sixth Wards respectively, backed this idea as an amendment to the proposal.

Under the provision, the city could prohibit a landlord from renting a certain property if that property is the site of three or more unlawful activities within a one-year period. Between each of these violations, there would be meetings with DeKalb police and city officials on how to rectify the situation.

Baker said he does not think the mail-in marijuana violation should count as a “strike.”

“If you take it out of the game and it’s not a strike, then there will be more mail-ins,” Baker said.

DeKalb Mayor Kris Povlsen argued that getting rid of the strike for the mail-in marijuana violations would undermine the disorderly house provision.

“Why would we want to lessen that as a strike?” Povlsen said. “I don’t think there’s landlords who want minors drinking alcohol and people smoking marijuana in their apartments.”

Ultimately, the council abandoned this idea. A proposal to lower the penalty even further, to $200, was rejected by a 4-4 tie vote, with Jacobson, Baker, and Alderwomen Kristen Lash and Monica O’Leary of the Third and Seventh Wards respectively, voting yes. Povlsen and the other three aldermen voted no.

If a person is caught with more than 2.5 grams of marijuana, they will be charged under the state statute.

In 2011, DeKalb police recorded 286 marijuana violations and 136 drug paraphernalia violations. To date in 2012, the police have recorded at least 300 marijuana violations and 200 for drug paraphernalia. These are for all drug violations, regardless of amount, and they are offenses, not arrests.

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