Class action: Chicago’s pot ordinance fines too high, out of joint with state marijuana law

By Dan Churney | Jan 16, 2019

A woman has lodged a lawsuit saying Chicago’s marijuana ordinance should go up in smoke, because it allegedly violates the Illinois constitution by coming down too hard on those who take a toke, in comparison to what the state imposes.

Ranae Rashford, of Chicago, filed a class action complaint Jan. 11 in Cook County Circuit Court, requesting an injunction against Chicago City Hall, and accusing city officials of unjustly enriching city coffers at the expense of marijuana users. She is represented by Chicago lawyers Steven R. Smith and Nathaniel A. Frenkel.

Rashford said she was cited in 2017 by Chicago police for having less than 10 grams of marijuana, for which she paid a $250 fine the same year.

Rashford pointed out the city exacts a fine of between $250 and $500 for anyone caught with up to 40 grams of marijuana, and $500 for any subsequent violations within 30 days. In contrast, the state lessened marijuana penalties in 2016, designating possession of less than 10 grams a civil violation, punishable by a minimum fine of $100 and a maximum of $200.

As a consequence, the complaint asserts Chicago exceeds its authority and violates the Illinois constitution by fining people more than the state does. Rashford’s city citation called for a minimum $250 fine, while the state, at most, would have demanded a $200 penalty or as little as $100, according to the suit.

Rashford’s attorneys argued municipal ordinances must give way when they conflict with state law. According to the attorneys, the Illinois Supreme Court supported this position in 1998.

“The legislature can permit concurrent local legislation, but only within limits that are consistent with the statutory scheme. Surely, if the state is permitted to exclude local governments from areas where the state has acted it also should be able to restrict the nature and extent of concurrent local activity,” the attorneys said, quoting the state high court.

Rashford wants the ordinance, which allows fines of $250 or more, declared unconstitutional, with such fines rendered void and unenforceable. Further, Rashford wants the city barred from continuing to impose the fines.

Rashford’s complaint does not specify the number of people who might be included in her proposed class of additional plaintiffs. But the complaint said the number of people she alleges were wrongfully fined can be obtained from city records.

According to Cook County court records, the case is assigned to Associate Judge Neil Cohen.

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Circuit Court of Cook County City of Chicago Nathaniel Frankel

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