Last Update: March 25, 2015
Decriminalization gains momentum in Illinois
This year is looking promising for those who support improving Illinois’ marijuana laws. Rep. Kelly Cassidy has proposed a thoughtful decriminalization bill, HB 218, which would remove criminal penalties for possession of less than 15 grams of marijuana (or about half an ounce) and protect against harsh criminal records. This bill has already received several key endorsements and co-sponsors and has passed out of committee. A similar measure of Cassidy’s, which MPP announced in early March, has since taken a back seat to HB 218, after she made significant changes that made this bill the most likely effort to be enacted this session. Please take a moment to ask your legislators to support this important bill!
Decriminalization is particularly important in Illinois, which currently has a patchwork system that is both unpredictable and unfair. While over 100 cities and towns have removed or reduced criminal penalties in their own ordinances, state law has not changed. This means that in these communities, law enforcement can treat possession as nothing more serious than a parking ticket, or they can choose to charge a person with a crime that can result in jail time. An excellent study by Franklin University highlights many of the disparities in the current system in Illinois.
Rep. Cassidy’s bill is not the only effort underway to improve marijuana laws. Sen. Michael Noland's SB 753 would remove all penalties for marijuana in any amount and allow home cultivation of up to five plants. Rep. LaShawn Ford has presented a bill, HB 1432, which would reduce but not eliminate criminal penalties, and penalties would increase in severity for those with more than one conviction. And finally, Sen. Michael Hastings has introduced SB 33, which would add PTSD as a qualifying medical condition to the state medical cannabis pilot program.
Illinois arrests tens of thousands of marijuana consumers each year
Change related to the 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. As mentioned above, 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.
If you were arrested for the possession of a modest amount of marijuana and might be interested in speaking out, please email [email protected].
Medical marijuana implementation continues
As the legislature considers improvements to possession laws, the state continues to roll out its medical cannabis pilot program. 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 over a year since the law went into effect. Follow this link for more information on the state program, including applications.
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