Did Chicago PD & Cook County really spend $78million prosecuting marijuana possession for a year?
Think about it. Hopefully you’ve never been pinched in a dime bag bust because you forgot to get rid of that bag in the glove box but did you ever wonder how much your local government is spending from the time they arrest you until you’re ushered out of court with your plea hanging around your neck?
How does 78 million bucks a year sound?
The exact cost of prosecuting pot is hard to pinpoint, since no one’s keeping track. In fact, it’s easier to determine the cost of a quarter ounce on the street than to figure out what our governmental bodies are spending to enforce pot laws.
But consider this: For the last several years, Chicago police have made about 23,000 annual arrests a year for marijuana possession. That’s about the same as the number of arrests for assaults, batteries, and public peace violations put together. In fact, cannabis possession is the leading cause of arrest by the Chicago Police Department, which has an annual budget of $1.4 billion a year. And roughly 5,000 additional pot possession arrests are made in suburban Cook County each year.
Police tell us that it takes two officers at least an hour and a half to make a misdemeanor arrest—or three police hours total. “They’ll take him to the station, put him in lockup, maybe walk down the hall and bullshit a little with the other cops on duty,” says one veteran. “Then they type up the paperwork and do the inventory. Then everything gets reviewed—sergeants approve the reports and the watch commander reviews everything. If you’re good, it’s two hours on the low side.”
If the offender is eligible to be released on bond, as most are for misdemeanor marijuana charges, other officers take the time to process that paperwork. If he has to be taken to jail, that’s even more time.
All told, marijuana possession busts currently consume more than 84,000 police work hours a year in Cook County.
Of course, these cops would probably still be working even if they weren’t hauling offenders to lockup—patrolling the beat, for example. In other words, the real expense for police is the opportunity cost.
“Every dollar that’s going into making one of these arrests could be spent on more serious crime problems,” says county commissioner Larry Suffredin, an Evanston Democrat.
And that’s just the start. Every arrest turns into a criminal case in the Cook County court system, which isn’t cheap.
It costs about $2,500 just to open a case, according to the Chicago Appleseed Fund for Justice, a legal research organization. That includes the expense of court clerks, judges, and running the system.
Sexual assaults, homicides, and other complex felony cases end up costing far more, but even small-time misdemeanors like pot possession set taxpayers back at least the $2,500. That’s true even if the cases end up getting tossed out—and nearly nine of every ten pot possession cases do.
In addition, police officers are usually paid overtime to appear as witnesses in court. In fact, under the Chicago police contract, cops get a minimum of two hours of overtime every time they show up as witnesses, even if they only stay for five minutes.
So with 28,000 arrests, it’s safe to say Cook County residents are paying at least $70 million a year to arrest and prosecute people caught carrying pot.
Considering that fines acquired for pot possession are relatively low (and seldom fully paid), the cost of the police and attorney labor are generally high – AND – all the budget cuts the city is currently trying to wrestle with isn’t there a much better way to be spending the money?
Like, gee, I don’t know – absolutely anything at all?
Read the rest of the piece, it’s freakin’ brilliant and makes you think.