Yesterday, the Illinois Senate approved a measure that decriminalizes the possession of small amounts of marijuana. Under the proposed legislation, the possession of less than 15 grams of marijuana would result in a fine.
Under current law, low-level cannabis possession is a criminal offense punishable by a fine of up to $2,500 and a maximum of one year in a jail. Under the proposed legislation the offense would be similar to a traffic ticket: no court time and a fine of up to $125.
Democratic Representative Kelly Cassidy sponsored the bill and in late April, the Illinois House of Representatives approved the legislation. The bill drew bipartisan support in the State House. Republican Representative Ron Sandack said the legislation is in line with Republican Governor Bruce Rauner’s goal of reducing the number of adults and juveniles sent to jail by 25% over the next decade.
Need to clean up the language
The legislation is not being sent to Governor Bruce Rauner’s desk yet. Sponsors of the bill said that they will hold onto it until additional cleanup language is approved. Opponents of decriminalization said the measure does not include treatment requirements or set a limit on the number of citations someone can receive.
Republican Senator Chapin Rose said, “To have no cap on the number of times you can come through here, maybe you can use some drug treatment.”
One provision of the legislation would change Illinois’ zero-tolerance law for driving with marijuana in a person’s system. The bill creates a new limit on the amount of THC that can be in someone’s system: 15 nanograms of THC per milliliter of blood, or 25 nanograms per milliliter of saliva.
A remarkable coalition
Representative Cassidy attributed the passage of the measure to a “remarkable coalition” of Democrats and Republicans, the Illinois State’s Attorneys Association, the Illinois Policy Institute, and the American Civil Liberties Union.
“It’s incredibly gratifying,” Cassidy said. “This has been several years in the making, with a lot of negotiation and compromise. It shows that when all the stakeholders hear each other, you can come up with a good solution.”
The bill passed less than a month after Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez announced that her office would stop prosecuting low-level marijuana possession cases for people with less than 3 arrests or citations. This follows a measure enacted in Chicago in 2012 that allowed police to issue tickets of $250 to $500 for someone caught with 15 grams or less of marijuana.
Democratic Senator Michael Noland sponsored the bill even though he believes that the use of marijuana is wrong. Senator Noland, however, noted that people should not have their lives ruined because of it.
Senator Noland said, “It’s wrong, and I would encourage the children of this state and my own children to abstain from the use of the substance, but people do use this, and it should not be something that ruins social lives and professional lives as well. People have been arrested at very young ages for this and have suffered the consequences.”
A growing trend
If signed into law, Illinois would join 17 other states that have decriminalized the possession of small amounts of marijuana.
On Thursday, Governor Rauner’s spokeswoman Catherine Kelly said, “The governor will carefully consider any legislation that crosses his desk.”