Committee okays ban on tiny plastic bags

Saying the war on drugs must be fought at all levels, "including some of the smallest," Alderman Bob Fioretti today led the city's health committee in approving steep fines for possession of tiny plastic bags used by drug dealers.

Under the measure, a person found with self-sealing plastic bags less than two inches tall or wide would be fined up to $1500. The penalty applies to those who know, or reasonably should have known, the bags would be used in the drug trade.

"I can find bags like these at all times in my ward," said Fioretti (D-2),  as he pointed to a display of 15 miniature bags stamped with colorful logos such as spiders and the superman sign.

Fioretti, who sponsored the ordinance, said he had collected the 15 bags on a single stroll through a couple of the 23 parks in his ward this past Sunday. "These are literally all over the parks."

Fioretti said many of the bags he collected contained the residue of narcotics, such as crack cocaine and heroin.

He said the tragic aspect of the ubiquitous baggies was that little children can easily pick them up and put their mouths on them.

The ordinance would direct money into the city's general funds from federal drug raids, according to Fioretti. The area around Wilcox Street in his South Loop ward,  had been the site of several federal drug raids recently, said Fioretti.

Walter Burnette (D-27) said he was concerned that the ordinance could end up punishing people who used the miniature bags for legitimate purposes.

Bags of that size are often used to store jewelry and also enclose the extra buttons that accompany suits, said Burnette.

"I want to make sure we have language in place so that innocent people don't get caught up in these situations," said Burnette.

Fioretti pointed to the "reasonably know" clause in the ordinance as sufficient assurance that the law would be used only against people in the drug trade.

"You need to have the criminal intent there, and that's clearly stated in the ordinance," said Fioretti.

Fioretti added that the ordinance was aimed at a situation where, "drug dealers will have these alongside of them; they won't be having buttons with them in these bags.

"When we look at the numbers in our parks that you can find in one Sunday, then you know, we're not having garment dealers using these bags," added Fioretti.

Chicago Police Lt. Kevin Navarro, a gang and narcotics supervisor, said his officers encounter these bags every day on the west side.

The special logos on the bags "boil down to Marketing 101 for the drug dealers," said Navarro. Customers ask for the type of drug by referring to the animal or superhero on the bag.

Navarro said that police would not be stopping people to search for the bags specifically.

"This would be something we would add onto the drug offense," he said.

Navarro said the ordinance would be useful for cracking down on businesses that sell the bags by the hundreds of thousands and cater specifically to the drug trade.

"We have a few businesses on our radar right now. They know what's up. They know what they're doing. This will be a very important tool for us to go after those businesses," said Navarro.

The measure will be considered by the full City Council on March 12.

Discuss

MATT MALDRE, 02-25-2009

Did this ban ever get passed?

GEOFF DOUGHERTY, 02-26-2009

Yes, it did:
http://www.chitowndailynews.org/Chicago_news/City_Council_passes_plastic_bag_recycling_law,14647

JENNIFER SLOSAR, 03-09-2009

The ban was never passed. (The ordinance Dougherty referred to was for recycling shopping bags.) Ald. Ed Smith sent the drug baggie ban back to the health committee where it ultimately died. (Noted in "Aldermen push speeding cameras," March 13, 2008).

Basically, too many aldermen shared Burnette's concerns.