Rock Island reduces penalities for pot busts

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Monday, the Rock Island City Council passed an ordinance that allows police officers to write tickets to those caught with up to 10 grams of marijuana.

Instead of an automatic arrest, a city ordinance citation will be issued to first-time offenders caught with up to 10 grams of marijuana. Citations will come with a minimum $300 fine and be prosecuted in municipal court, rather than circuit.

Police Chief Jeff VenHuizen said the change will be a benefit for officers.

"One, it's going to free them up. There's a lot of time that's invested anytime there's an arrest -- transporting individuals to the county jail, remanding them to the county jail. This allows us to speed up the process by issuing a citation and releasing the individual on scene," said VenHuizen.

Monday, fourth ward alderman Steve Tollenaer brought a bag of spices to show just how much marijuana will qualify for a ticket rather than jail time.

"It gives you an idea. Somebody says 10 grams... how much is it? Well, it's not very darn much," said Tollenaer.

Possession of any amount of marijuana is still illegal, and leaders said the new ordinance simply mirrors state law. Aldermen said they've received only positive feedback about the change.

"I'm a proponent of this, and I think it will generate between $25,000 and $50,000 extra dollars for the citizens of Rock Island," said Tollenaer.

Mayor Dennis Pauley, though, said the ordinance isn't about the money.

"That's not the point. We're doing this to make it easier for the customer out there, so that if they do get caught doing something illegal -- which they shouldn't be doing -- it enables them to have a ticket instead of being arrested for something," said Pauley.

Officers will still have the power to arrest people caught with marijuana instead of writing a ticket. They'll likely use this option if the offender has a criminal history, doesn't cooperate with officers, or has failed to pay fines in the past.

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