First decriminalization bill dies, but a second one in the works
Last update: September 28, 2015
A bill that would have replaced criminal penalties for simple possession of marijuana with a civil fine failed to advance this year. Gov. Bruce Rauner issued an amendatory veto to HB 218, calling for an increase in the possible fine and a decrease in the amount of cannabis covered, but supporting the core purpose of the bill. The clock ran out on approving HB 218 with the amendatory language, but there is still plenty of time for a new vehicle to be used for a proposal the governor can sign. Fortunately, lawmakers are currently working on a compromise with the governor’s office, and a new bill is expected to emerge before the end of the year.
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.
Opportunities to improve medical cannabis program fall short
Two key medical cannabis bills emerged from the legislature and were under consideration by the governor, but both were vetoed. Rep. Lou Lang sponsored a bill — HB 3299 — to extend the state’s Medical Cannabis Pilot Program by a year, and Sen. Michael Hastings, sponsored SB 33, which would have added PTSD as a qualifying medical condition to the state medical cannabis pilot program. These decisions are a serious blow to many seriously ill patients across the state who had hoped for relief. Follow this link for more information on the state program, including applications.
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