Editor’s note: Names of students have been changed for anonymity.
An arrangement of marijuana paraphernalia sits on a black leather chest in an off-campus apartment. A bong sits next to a steamroller; a small pipe lies adjacent to a grape-flavored cigar emptied of its tobacco innards. A Ziploc bag sits on a small folding table filled with the last remnants of marijuana buds settled in the bottom.
Three Knox College students sit around the chest preparing to smoke marijuana. They all pitch whatever pot they can spare into a grinder and then pack the contents into a bong. The amount of weed in the grinder, according to Galesburg’s new marijuana ordinance, is not a largeenough amount to result in the the arrest of any of the participants.
Galesburg’s City Council passed an ordinance Jan. 6 that has given police the option of issuing a ticket and $300 fine for possessing less than two and a half grams of marijuana.
Perhaps most importantly, once the ticket has been paid the violation would not be attached to a violator’s criminal record. The ordinance goes into effect Jan. 16.
At a time when outright marijuana legalization has been achieved in two states, legality is still a long shot in Galesburg. Possession of pot — and paraphernalia — is still illegal. But most significantly, the change brings these offenses within the confines of the police department, instead of creating misdemeanor changes subject to state punishment.
The participants in the smoking session previously mentioned had experience with marijuana for upwards of five years.
According to Will, this ordinance carries multiple benefits.
“I think it’s good for the city of Galesburg because that’s revenue, and it’s also good for the citizen who uses because they don’t have to worry about being arrested in cases where they just have a bit of weed on them.”
Jim juxtaposed the illegality of marijuana with the legality of alcohol, which he argues can be more dangerous than pot.
“For me, it’s like you weigh the negatives of smoking pot and you weigh the negatives of drinking liquor, it seems like there are so many cases of people dying from the over consumption of liquor,” Jim said. “It’s funny, they make jokes about it all the time. Nobody has ever died from weed, but it’s true.”
One smoker in the group gestures that the bowl is done and the session takes a pause as the ash is emptied and the bowl is refilled with ground marijuana. He continues to look at a comic book on his laptop.
When asked whether the lowered risk of arrest would result in more awareness of how much weed they carried while they were out, there were mixed responses.
“I think I’ll definitely still make sure not to get caught, but it probably will influence me to carry less or be more aware of how much I’m carrying. I know that I have the ability to not get arrested or have that on my record,” Will said.
To another smoker, the limit is slightly too low of an amount to leave the house with if he’s going to a party where he knows he will be smoking.
But neither Jim nor Will has heard of anyone getting in serious trouble for possessing a small amount of marijuana.
“Knowing people who have gotten in trouble in Galesburg, it’s typically people who have had more to begin with. It’s not people who have a small amount,” Will said.
This is not the first time a marijuana ordinance has been considered by City Council. A similar proposal was passed in July 2012 but was vetoed by former Mayor Sal Garza.
Will and Jim both agreed that this decision reflects well on Mayor John Pritchard.
“He’s very proactive and I guess he sees the positive. I think that’s kind of cool. We need more people like him,” Jim said.
Impact on campus
Campus Safety Director John Schlaf said that while there is cooperation between GPD and Campus Safety, typically students found with small amounts of marijuana are referred to the college and its disciplinary system. This seems to indicate that students will not be impacted to a great extent by the new ordinance.
This may be a cause for concern to some, as it indicates that there is a separate justice system for Knox students. But for Schlaf, that’s not the case.
“There may have been a mistaken belief by some that if it takes place on campus and Campus Safety is involved with it … that the matter is not adequately addressed. In fact, it runs very much parallel to what the city would do,” he said.
In fact, the city’s new ordinance has brought the punishment for this offense more in line with the way that the college addresses possession of small amounts of marijuana.
“So to the Galesburg resident that’s looking, there’s at least a process it goes through,” Schlaf said. “We’re not turning a blind eye, as some folks would believe.”
Galesburg Chief of Police David Christensen said that this ordinance takes shape after many similar marijuana ordinances that have been passed statewide. He also clarified that this is not a true decriminalization in that police officers still have the option of arresting a person for possessing any amount of marijuana.
“It’s still an ordinance violation. An ordinance violation, if you fail to take care of it, can be something other than just a ticket,” Christensen said.
However, he is supportive of the measure as another tool that officers can use that will avoid lasting negative consequences for the violator. But in terms of a change in enforcement procedures, Christensen does not foresee any major impacts.
In the case that a scenario arises that an administrative ticket is warranted, Christensen said that officers are used to giving out administrative tickets for a number of minor violations.
“Officers are very accustomed to issuing administrative tickets, and that’s what this would be in the case of a marijuana citation. That’s not at all a stretch for them to use that tool.”
Christensen stressed that this ordinance does not give people license to carry small amounts of marijuana without consequence. He laid out the outcome of a scenario in which a person was caught with a small amount of weed during the interview.
“With the new ordinance the officer, assuming that he was going to go ahead and charge…would write a ticket for a violation of this ordinance, much like a traffic ticket, it’s called an administrative ticket. To settle that ticket you simply show up at the water counter at city hall and it’s a $300 dollar fine, you pay that ticket and that’s the end of the story. There would be an advantage to that offender that now he would not then carry with him a criminal record with a drug arrest.”
He emphasized that a failure to pay the fine would result in a warrant being put out for the arrest of the culprit. The resulting trial would be held for the drug charge in addition to the failure to pay for the ticket, making the consequence even more severe.