An Illinois county with more people than most states is going to stop prosecuting minor pot cases as part of a major overhaul of how it deals with low-level drug offenses. Officials in Cook County—which includes Chicago, and is America's second most populous with around 5.2 million people—say the goal is to steer repeat offenders toward treatment instead of jail, the Chicago Tribune reports. "The methods in which we are handling low-level drug cases here in Cook County are simply not working," State's Attorney Anita Alvarez told NBC, estimating that her office dealt with 15,000 misdemeanor marijuana cases last year.
Under the current system, "we continue to see the same individuals revolving in and out of our criminal justice system with no meaningful impact or outcome and at a significant cost to taxpayers," Alvarez said. The overhaul—which was welcomed by a Chicago police spokesman and the county sheriff's office—also applies to possession of small amounts of drugs including cocaine and heroin, which Alvarez says accounted for around 10,000 of the 40,000 felony cases her office handled last year, the Tribune reports. After she announced the overhaul yesterday, Alvarez said she had no idea of the date's significance for pot smokers, reports the Chicago Sun-Times. "April 20 to me is just that, April 20," she said. "I had no clue what 4-20 meant."