Last Update: September 23, 2014

Medical Cannabis Pilot Program advances

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.

Meanwhile, the legislature will continue to consider improvements to marijuana-related laws this year. Three bills were filed earlier this year to remove or reduce criminal penalties for those found with 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. The bills may be considered during the veto session in November and December.

Check out MPP’s report on how damaging criminal records for cannabis can be, Marked for Life: Collateral Sanctions Associated with Marijuana Offenses in Illinois. For a report on how a patchwork of local decriminalization laws are being implemented, or in some cases, aren't being implemented, be sure to take a look at this report from Roosevelt University. And please also ask your legislators to support imposing a civil fine on cannabis possession.

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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 each issued rules. 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' 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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