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Police shouldn’t ticket pot smokers in backyards or on balconies, Lightfoot says

CPD spokesman Anthony Guglielmi noted that the new state law allows officers to issue those citations for such use, but said that won’t be a priority.

The Sun-Times reported Wednesday that cops could still ticket people caught smoking pot in backyards or on front porches.
AP file

Mayor Lori Lightfoot and interim Chicago Police Supt. Charlie Beck issued a statement Thursday clarifying the CPD’s new pot enforcement plan after the Sun-Times reported that Chicagoans could still be ticketed for using marijuana in backyards or on porches or balconies that are visible to the public when the drug is legalized next month.

“The Chicago Police Department recognizes that an individual using cannabis in their own backyard or balcony poses no direct threat to public safety, and no resident should be arrested or ticketed solely for such a scenario,” the statement reads. “Any characterization to the contrary is simply wrong.”

That statement, however, made no mention of whether smoking pot on a front porch would be treated differently.

In an interview, CPD spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said that the new law does allow officers to issue citations for some use on private property, but that won’t be a priority.

“That doesn’t mean that police do it, because they have discretion,” said Guglielmi, noting that the department is “not as interested in people using recreational marijuana unless there’s a direct correlation to violent crime or inhibiting public safety.”

“We have far greater things to be focused on than people using recreational marijuana,” he added.

Guglielmi nevertheless said “you can probably expect some police action” if multiple 911 calls report marijuana use that’s disturbing others.

The Sun-Times reported Wednesday that cops could still ticket individuals caught using marijuana in backyards and on front porches and balconies after weed is legalized on Jan. 1. That’s because the new law defines a public place as anywhere “a person could reasonably be expected to be observed by others.”

But Sgt. Mike Malinowski noted Wednesday that officers are now being encouraged to explain the new law to residents caught violating it rather than take punitive measures right away.

After a Thursday morning news conference on winter preparedness, Lightfoot was asked to justify fining people caught smoking weed on personal property.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” the mayor said.

When a reporter reiterated the policy articulated by her own Police Department the day before, Lightfoot seemed to struggle to come up with a good reason for getting that tough.

“Look, look, we’re all working through the new world order together,” she said.

“The Police Department is putting out some specific training to make sure that officers understand that, in this new world, marijuana is obviously legalized. That changes entirely what the regulatory framework is gonna be. And I expect them to follow the law.”

The mayor walked out as a reporter was attempting to ask why CPD was planning to fine people caught smoking pot on their own front porches, in backyards and on high-rise balconies visible to neighbors.

A short time time later, Lightfoot issued the joint statement with Beck.

Later Thursday, community members raised a series of questions about police enforcement during a public meeting on cannabis at Malcolm X College, though the issue of officers potentially issuing citations for using pot on private property wasn’t raised.

One concerned citizen asked whether the smell of weed gives cops probable cause to search a vehicle after another member of the audience of about 50 voiced concerns over how officers determine whether someone has used the drug in a car — something that will still be prohibited under state law.

CPD Sgt. Joe Bird explained that officers are trained to detect the smell of pot, which he noted currently gives them the authority to search vehicles during a traffic stop. But with cannabis becoming legal in a matter of weeks, Bird said that policy is subject to change.

When Bird was questioned about whether that type of discretion could lead to discrimination and false arrests, he noted that citizens can file formal complaints against officers to report abuses.

Paul Stewart, Lightfoot’s policy adviser, acknowledged that Chicagoans have at times “been falsely or aggressively arrested or convicted over small offenses.”

“We’re trying to address that currently,” Stewart said. “Part of addressing that is new training that the Chicago Police Department is currently undergoing in order to not move back to the same overly aggressive punitive charges and enforcement actions that have impacted these communities over the years.”

City officials will hold a second meeting on cannabis at 6 p.m. Friday at Chicago State University, 9501 S. King Drive.