In November of 2015, the Washington Post reported that in the previous year law enforcement had taken more property from people – including cash, automobiles, and even homes – than burglars had stolen. Burglary losses amounted to $3.5 billion, while, shockingly, the net asset of police seizures amounted to $4.5 billion. (via The Institute for Justice) More disturbingly, this number reflected only federal statistics, and not seizures by state police and local law enforcement, data that in most cases is extremely difficult to obtain. Law enforcement utilizes a practice known as civil asset forfeiture to permanently confiscate property they perceive to be involved in criminal activity. This is done without requiring officers to prove the person or the property is guilty and/or connected to criminal activity. The process to reclaim one’s property in the event of seizure is legally complex, expensive, and time-sensitive, making the extreme majority of assets logistically impossible for most people to reclaim. Furthermore, law enforcement is inherently incentivized to persist the practice as all funds obtained through asset forfeiture are re-directed to the operating budgets of their respective departments.
As we head into the deep summer days of August, let’s take a moment to celebrate a major step forward for drug policy. Illinois has just become the 21st state to decriminalize the possession of low levels of marijuana. We are grateful for the more than 50 Illinois clergy who have signed the Religious Declaration of Clergy for a New Drug Policy, which includes marijuana decriminalization on our agenda. We thank the more than 30 who petitioned Governor Rauner to sign the bill after the General Assembly had passed it in mid-May. Based on the testimony from those who worked on this bill in Springfield, our voices made a difference.
SUMMARY OF ILLINOIS MARIJUANA CIVIL SANCTIONS BILL June 14, 2016 PROVIDES FOR CIVIL ENFORCEMENT, NOT CRIMINAL PENALITIES, FOR MARIJUANA POSSESSION The proposed legislation would eliminate the possibility of arrest and jail time for simple possession of marijuana in Illinois. Under the proposed law, an individual possessing not more than 10 grams (approximately one-third ounce) of marijuana would be charged with a civil, not a criminal, law violation punishable by a fine, like a traffic ticket, of no more than $200. Background: In 2010, there were over 49,000 arrests for marijuana possession in Illinois. Offenders face criminal prosecution even for low levels. Over 100 Illinois cities and towns, including Chicago, have already enacted local ordinances calling for civil sanctions comparable to a traffic ticket. This patchwork of ordinances and laws has led to uneven enforcement across the state. Despite these local actions, under current state law, police can continue to issue arrests leading to a criminal record.
By Rev. Alexander E. Sharp So what happens when troops start questioning the assumptions of the war they signed up for? We’re seeing the answer now with the War on Drugs. This war is going to end because those on the front line realize that most of it doesn’t make any sense. Nationally, an organization called Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) is dedicated to the proposition that the War on Drugs is a failure. Its speakers bureau of former police officers has been making this case across the country for over twelve years. Now local voices are coming forward. Two months ago we wrote about the police chief of Gloucester, Massachusetts, who last winter experienced four deaths in his district due to heroin overdose within two months. He couldn’t take it anymore. He announced that if addicts needed help and came into his office, he would not arrest them. He would get them into treatment.
By Rev. Alexander E. Sharp It’s not surprising that one of Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner’s first acts upon taking office almost a year ago was to create a special commission to help him reduce Illinois’ prison population by 25% within the next ten years. Reducing prison costs has become a national issue transcending the deep divisions between political parties. In a politically gridlocked state, it is an area in which he might achieve something. With a $4 billion current-year budget deficit looming, the potential savings in reduced costs of incarceration could come in handy. What are the prospects for real reform? Recent actions by the Governor raise serious doubts. Six months before the Commission is scheduled to produce his final report, he is blocking the kinds of changes essential to achieving its stated goals.