Last Update: July 25, 2014

Gov. Quinn signs bill that adds seizure conditions to medical cannabis program

Gov. Pat Quinn signed SB 2636 into law on July 13, adding seizure conditions to the list of qualifying medical conditions for medical cannabis for both minors and adults. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Iris Martinez and Rep. Lou Lang, was overwhelmingly approved by both the House and Senate.

In addition, three bills were presented to lawmakers this year that would either remove or reduce criminal penalties for those found in possession of up to 30 grams of cannabis. HB 5708 would not only allow people to avoid arrest or jail time, but it would also completely eliminate any criminal record — which can hurt employment, housing, public assistance, and educational opportunities. Two other bills, HB 4299 and HB 4091, would significantly lower penalties and allow people to avoid arrest or jail, but would still leave individuals with damaging criminal records. All three bills have been kept active and may be considered later this year.

For a detailed analysis of how a criminal record can have far-reaching effects for Illinois residents, check out our report, Marked for Life: Collateral Sanctions Associated with Marijuana Offenses in Illinois. For a new report on how a patchwork of local decriminalization laws are being implemented, or in some cases, aren't being implemented, check out this report from Roosevelt University. Please also ask your legislators to support imposing a civil fine on cannabis possession.

Meanwhile, Rep. Kelly Cassidy is fostering a conversation about broader reform. She introduced HB 6270, which would create a Cannabis Legalization Task Force to examine issues related to cannabis legalization and develop legislation to tax and regulate marijuana for adults 21 and over in Illinois.

Medical marijuana implementation, possible expansion moving forward

Illinois’ new medical marijuana law went into effect on January 1, and the Department of Public Health, Department of Financial and Professional Regulation, and the Department of Agriculture have already issued draft agency rules for their oversight of the patient registry. Those rules were recently approved and can be implemented soon. Some patients will be able to begin applying in August or September. 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 copies of the different agencies' draft rules. The page also offers the ability for individuals to sign up for email notifications on progress.

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, and despite similar marijuana use rates, blacks are 7.6 times as likely to be arrested for marijuana possession in Illinois as whites.

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, and the law is not being applied equally around the state according to the Roosevelt University report.

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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