Last Update: January 30, 2014
New session begins with positive marijuana bills
The legislative session has begun, and several bills have been introduced that would make important steps forward for marijuana laws in the state. Most notably, Rep. Christian Mitchell introduced HB 4299, which would reduce possession of small amounts of marijuana to a petty offense punishable by a $100 fine and eliminate the possibility of jail time. Meanwhile, SB 2636, introduced by Sen. Iris Martinez, would add a specific form of epilepsy as a new qualifying medical condition for the medical marijuana pilot program and allow minors to qualify for the condition. MPP and patients are hoping this will be revised to include all forms of epilepsy.
Illinois’ new medical marijuana law went into effect on January 1, and the Department of Public Health has already issued draft agency rules for its oversight of the patient registry. Unfortunately, patients will not have any legal protections or safe access to their medicine for some time. Two other state agencies must still issue their own proposed rules, and the rule adoption and implementation process will continue for most of the year. 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 it also offers the ability for individuals to sign up for email notifications on progress.
While the state moves forward with medical marijuana rulemaking, the Chicago City Council is considering an ordinance which would limit dispensaries to manufacturing zones. Seriously ill patients should not be relegated to areas normally limited to manufacturing businesses and industry. This proposal would create an additional burden on patients by requiring many to travel extra distances to potentially dangerous areas just to obtain their medicine. If you live in Chicago, please contact your city council members and make your voice heard in opposition.
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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.
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. Last summer, 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, news reports indicate not all offenders are treated the same. Statewide, enforcement of marijuana laws has also produced alarming disparities: Despite similar marijuana use rates, blacks are 7.6 times as likely to be arrested for marijuana possession in Illinois as whites.
If you were arrested for the possession of a modest amount of marijuana and might be interested in speaking out, please email email@example.com.
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