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Evanston Police Chief Richard Eddington told aldermen Monday they lack the legal authority to change penalties for most drug law offenses.

Eddington said that, after conferring with the city’s law department, he’s concluded that municipalities lack authority under the Illinois constitution to change the penalties for offenses that the state legislature has declared to be felonies.

“The general assembly wanted that to be maintained as a matter of exclusive state concern,” the chief said.

Alderman have been scheduled to discuss next month a proposal from a Northwestern University student group to reduce drug law penalties along the lines of reforms adopted in Portugal over a decade ago.

Eddington also presented figures on tickets issued and arrests made for small amounts of marijuana possession before and after the council adopted new rules encouraging the police to issue tickets rather than making arrests for possession of less than 10 grams of marijuana.

Evanston police chart on cannabis arrests and tickets. *2014 data through May 31.

The numbers show that tickets issued initially soared in 2012, but dropped off last year, while the number of arrests continued to decline through the period.

Eddington’s report also noted that in only about a third tickets issued for marijuana possession ultimately result in the payment of a fine or performance of community service. The city, he said, is unable to collect fines in the rest of the cases.

That payment percentage, he said, is roughly the same as for most other offenses handled through the administrative adjudication process.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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