Last Update: April 3, 2014

House committee approves decriminalization bill; 63% of Illinoisians support the reform

With an April 11 legislative deadline fast approaching, momentum is building to impose a non-criminal fine for possession of up to an ounce of marijuana. Please let your representative know it’s past time Illinois catch up with the 15 other states — including Ohio that have made this modest reform, in many cases back in the 1970s.  

On March 25, the Illinois House Restorative Justice Committee approved two bills to make this long-overdue reform. The stronger of the bills — HB 5708 — is sponsored by Rep. Kelly Cassidy and would remove criminal penalties and the possibility of a criminal record for possession of up to 30 grams of marijuana. This bill establishes a new class of offense called a “regulatory offense,” which would prohibit arrest or jail time, limit fines to no more than $100, and require that the ticket would be removed from a person’s record after the fine is paid.

This important reform would stop people from being marked for life for using a substance that about half of all Americans have used, which is safer than alcohol. You can learn more about the ways a marijuana conviction can haunt someone for life by reading MPP’s new report Marked for Life. Or, check out our new poll that found 63% support for imposing a civil fine for marijuana possession, including majority support from all political parties, genders, races, and age groups that were surveyed.

Medical marijuana implementation, possible expansion moving forward

Illinois’ new medical marijuana law went into effect on January 1, and the Department of Public Health has already issued draft agency rules for its oversight of the patient registry. Unfortunately, patients will not have any legal protections or safe access to their medicine for some time. Two other state agencies must still issue their own proposed rules, and the rule adoption and implementation process will continue for most of the year.

A quick summary of the new law is here, with a more detailed analysis here. A two-page analysis designed specifically for prospective patients to share with physicians is also available for download. The state established a webpage to keep followers informed on the latest updates, and it also offers the ability for individuals to sign up for email notifications on progress.

Although Illinois’ medical marijuana law is a dramatic step forward, it unfortunately excludes patients with a large number of debilitating medical conditions that could benefit from medical marijuana, and all minors. On April 2, the state Senate overwhelmingly approved SB 2636, which would slightly expand the law by adding one condition — seizures — for both adults and minors. The bill now moves to the House. Please ask your representative to support this important bill.

Illinois arrests tens of thousands of marijuana users each year

Despite the new medical marijuana law, Illinois' marijuana penalties remain harsh, and the state has the fifth highest arrest rate for marijuana possession in the nation. Penalties range from jail sentences of up to 30 days and a fine of up to $1,500 for possession of less than 2.5 grams of marijuana (about one-tenth of an ounce) to upwards of three years in prison and up to $25,000 in fines for possession of more than 30 grams. A study by the ACLU found that there were nearly 50,000 marijuana possession arrests in Illinois in 2010.

Meanwhile, 75% of Chicago murders went unsolved in 2012. Some cities provide relief to Illinois’ high penalties by giving officers the option to cite offenders and punish possession of small amounts with a fine only. In June 2012, Chicago joined that list when Mayor Emmanuel approved an ordinance allowing officers to cite those in possession of 15 grams or less. Violators in the Windy City face fines of $200-500 if they are charged under city — not state — law. Results of these programs are mixed; however, news reports indicate not all offenders are treated the same. Statewide, enforcement of marijuana laws has also produced alarming disparities: Despite similar marijuana use rates, blacks are 7.6 times as likely to be arrested for marijuana possession in Illinois as whites.

If you were arrested for the possession of a modest amount of marijuana and might be interested in speaking out, please email

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