Decriminalization bill still under consideration
Last update: September 4, 2015
A bill that would replace criminal penalties for simple possession of marijuana with a civil fine has been considered by Gov. Bruce Rauner and returned to the legislature with several changes. The amended version of HB 218 would remove criminal penalties for possession of less than 10 grams of marijuana (over a quarter of an ounce) and protect against harsh criminal records. If the changes are not accepted, thousands of Illinoisans will continue to be subjected to harsh and unevenly applied possession laws in the state.
This change is long overdue in Illinois. The state has the fifth highest arrest rate for marijuana possession in the nation. Penalties currently 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 despite similar marijuana use rates, enforcement is far from equal — blacks are 7.6 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession in Illinois than whites.
More than 100 cities and towns — including Chicago — provide relief to Illinois’ high penalties by giving officers the option to cite offenders and punish possession of small amounts with a fine only. Unfortunately, those local measures are unevenly and unequally applied. HB 218 would ensure that how a person is treated for marijuana possession is equal and proportional, regardless of the person’s zip code or race.
Medical cannabis program continues slow advance
Two key medical cannabis bills also emerged from the legislature and are likewise under consideration by the governor. Rep. Lou Lang sponsored a bill to extend the state’s Medical Cannabis Pilot Program by a year — HB 3299. Gov. Rauner has also issued an amendatory veto for this measure, although Rep. Lang and the governor’s office are expected to work together to find a compromise to extend the program.
Another bill sponsored by Sen. Michael Hastings, SB 33, would add PTSD as a qualifying medical condition to the state medical cannabis pilot program if it is signed into law. In addition, PTSD and 10 other conditions are also under consideration by the Illinois Department of Health and Public Safety as part of its own rule-making authority. You can encourage the department to include these serious conditions by clicking here.
Meanwhile, the number of patients registered in the state system continues to rise slowly and businesses prepare to open this summer. Unfortunately, the program roll-out is taking a very long time, and seriously ill patients have been left waiting for years since the law was approved. Follow this link for more information on the state program, including applications.
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