Last Update: October 6, 2014

Could Illinois decriminalize marijuana this year?

Three decriminalization bills under consideration by the Illinois Legislature got a significant boost when Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel recently called on the state’s General Assembly to decriminalize marijuana possession statewide. The mayor encouraged lawmakers to challenge the “assumptions that are embedded in the criminal justice system,” arguing that reducing the penalties for minor drug possession would allow the city and state to focus efforts on more violent crime.

The bills under consideration — HB 5708, HB 4299, and HB 4091 — would remove or reduce criminal penalties for those found with up to 30 grams of cannabis. While each would significantly lower penalties and allow people to avoid arrest or jail, only Rep. Kelly Cassidy’s HB 5708 is specifically designed to eliminate any criminal record — which can hurt employment, housing, public assistance, and educational opportunities. The bills may be considered during the veto and lame duck sessions, during which the legislature meets periodically between November and January. Please ask your legislators to support imposing a civil fine on cannabis possession.

And if you haven’t already done so, please sign up for our free email alerts and stay informed! The rollout for Illinois’ medical cannabis pilot program continues. The state Department of Public Health began accepting applications for patients whose names begin with letters A through L on September 2. Those whose names begin with the letters M through Z may apply in November and December. At the same time, the Department of Agriculture and Department of Financial and Professional Regulation posted applications for cultivation center and dispensary licenses. Applications must be received between September 8 and September 22 to be accepted.

Illinois arrests tens of thousands of marijuana consumers each year

The discussion of a civil penalty for simple possession of marijuana is long overdue in Illinois. 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 despite similar marijuana use rates, blacks are 7.6 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession in Illinois than whites. 

Meanwhile, 75% of Chicago murders went unsolved in 2012. Some cities and towns 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 Emanuel 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, which highlights the need for statewide laws to change.

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

Medical marijuana implementation continues

While the legislature considers treating marijuana users with more reasonable penalties, the executive branch is making steady progress on implementing the state’s medical marijuana law. Thousands of seriously ill patients and hundreds of businesses have applied to participate in the state’s medical cannabis program. Patients with names that begin with letters A-L may apply through the end of October, and those with names beginning M-Z will be able to apply in November and December. Some patients have already received their ID cards. For more information on patient applications, click here.

Meanwhile, the window for business applications is now closed. In all, more than 373 applications were filed to operate medical marijuana dispensaries or growers. The state is expected to grant licenses later this year, and the first dispensaries could open as soon as the spring of 2015.

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Emanuel pushes to reduce penalties for minor drug possession statewide







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