Last Update: April 22, 2014

Important bill protecting patients with seizure conditions advances; legislature considering marijuana decriminalization 

Several significant bills have been considered during this year’s legislative session. Some, including a bill that would study a system of taxation regulation for cannabis for adults, did not advance this year but laid important groundwork for similar legislation in future sessions. Others, such as efforts to reduce or remove criminal penalties for those in possession of a small amount of marijuana, and one which would greatly improve the state’s medical cannabis program, continue to make important progress.

Three bills were presented to lawmakers this year which 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 completely eliminate any criminal record — which can hurt employment, housing, public assistance, and educational opportunities. This bill, sponsored by Rep. Kelly Cassidy, was approved in committee and can be considered by the House floor. Two other bills, HB 4299 by Rep. Christian L. Mitchell, and HB 4091 by Rep. Michael Zalewski would significantly lower penalties and avoid arrest or jail, but would still leave individuals with damaging criminal records. For a detailed analysis of how a criminal record can have far reaching effects for Illinois residents, check our report, Marked for Life: Collateral Sanctions Associated with Marijuana Offenses in Illinois. Please also ask your legislators to support imposing a civil fine on cannabis possession.

Another very important bill this session is SB 2636, sponsored by Sen. Iris Martinez. This legislation would add seizure conditions to the list of qualifying medical conditions in the medical cannabis program and allow minors with that condition to qualify for access to the medicine. The bill passed with unanimous support from the committee members present at the public hearing before the Senate Committee on Public Health, and passed the Senate itself by a wide margin of 42 to 5. The bill’s primary sponsor in the House is Rep. Lou Lang, who was the principal sponsor of HB 1 — the 2013 bill that became the current medical cannabis law. Please ask your representative to support this important bill.

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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