Rock Island Approves New Cannabis Ordinance - News and Weather For The Quad Cities -

Rock Island Approves New Cannabis Ordinance

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Changes are in the pipeline for how police in one QCA city can handle cases of possession of small amounts of marijuana.

A new ordinance approved by Rock Island City Council on Monday night will change the way police can handle certain cases of possession of marijuana.

Rock Island Police want to be clear: The new ordinance does not legalize marijuana. You still can't legally use or possess it in any amount.

What the ordinance does is change the way police can handle certain cases, allowing them to decide whether possession of small amounts should be prosecuted as a crime under state law or treated as a civil penalty in municipal court.

The city of Rock Island already has an ordinance on the books for cannabis possession up to 2.5 grams, allowing police to issue a citation carrying a $150 fine.

On Monday, city council approved a similar ordinance for possession of marijuana between 2.5 grams and 10 grams, making it a civil offense if police choose -- carrying a 300 to 750 dollar fine to be collected by the city.

Rock Island Police officials say having the option to deal with violations on a case by case basis is important:

"We're looking at first time offenders," said Rock Island Police Chief Jeff VenHuizen. "This is not for habitual offenders, this is not for serious violent offenders."

VenHuizen says by moving possession of up to ten grams of cannabis out of the criminal courts in those cases, the courts and the officers will be freed up to better handle the more serious crimes.

"I'm not trying to minimize the serious nature of drug offenses, and again, we do take them very seriously, but this does allow the officer some discretion," he said.

For some city leaders, who unanimously approved the ordinance on Monday, the financial aspect was certainly a nice bonus.

The city is expecting to bring in between $25,000 and $50,000 a year in additional revenue, collecting fines that would have previously been paid out to the state.

"I've kind of been a proponent of that, and anything that takes some burden off the property owners in Rock Island," said Stephen Tollenaer, who represents Ward 4 on the Rock Island City Council.

But, Rock Island County Sheriff Jeff Boyd says he believes the risks outweigh the benefits.

"I don't like the message it's sending," he said. "I'm opposed and have been to decriminalizing cannabis. I believe it's a gateway drug."

Enforcement of the new ordinance, even within Rock Island city limits, depends on the law enforcement agency involved.

"Our deputies will still be charging people in state court with state crimes," Sheriff Boyd explained. "They do not have the ability to enforce the ordinances within the municipality, that would only be the city of Rock Island police force."

The new cannabis ordinance will take effect ten days after the mayor signs it.

On Monday night, city council also approved ordinance changes for seat belt and cell phone while driving violations, allowing the city to collect the fines instead of the state for those offenses.

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