Decriminalization now within reach in Illinois
Last update: June 2, 2015
A bill to replace criminal penalties for simple possession of marijuana with a civil fine passed the Senate with a strong vote of 27-19. HB 218, sponsored by Rep. Kelly Cassidy in the House and Sen. Michael Noland in the Senate, would remove criminal penalties for possession of less than 15 grams of marijuana (about half an ounce) and protect against harsh criminal records. The bill is supported by a broad, bipartisan coalition of lawmakers, along with the Illinois States’ Attorney Association, the Adult Court Probation Services (TASC), and many others. The measure now goes to Gov. Bruce Rauner’s desk for a signature.
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 advancing
Medical cannabis bills are also on the move in the final days of the session. Rep. Lou Lang’s bill to extend the state’s Medical Cannabis Pilot Program by a year — HB 3299 — is also heading to Gov. Rauner’s desk after passing the Senate 33-16 and the House 81-28. Without an extension, the program is scheduled to end on January 1, 2018. These strong votes show just how supportive members of the House are for giving the program enough time to succeed.
Finally, Sen. Michael Hastings’s SB 33, which would add PTSD as a qualifying medical condition to the state medical cannabis pilot program, advanced out of the Senate and is being considered by the House, where Rep. Lou Lang has become its sponsor in that chamber. 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 nearly two years since the law was approved. Follow this link for more information on the state program, including applications.
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