Illinois: House Approves Bill To Decriminalize Marijuana Possession
By Steve Elliott
The Illinois House on Thursday approved a decriminalization measure under which possession of small amounts of marijuana would result in a fine instead of arrest.
Minor cannabis possession would go from a crime with up to a year in jail and fines of up to $2,500 to become more like a traffic ticket, with no court time and a fine maxing out at $125, reports Jessie Hellmann at the Chicago Tribune.
House Bill 218 would apply to people caught with 15 grams or less of marijuana, just over half an ounce.
The legislation would create a uniform penalty throughout the state, and eliminate the option for police to arrest people carrying small amounts of cannabis, according to sponsor Rep. Kelly Cassidy (D-Chicago).
"We currently have a patchwork of local ordinances where there is the possibility of getting a ticket but not a given that you'll get a ticket, so it's an open question where you go whether you're going to get arrested or get a ticket," Rep. Cassidy said.
"That creates a system whereby it depends on where you live, and what you look like, and unfortunately more often than not, it is folks who are black and brown who are being arrested, who are being pulled off the streets, pulled away from their jobs and their families and put into our jails and prisons," she said.
The House bill comes just a few days after Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez announced her office is halting the prosecutions of low-level marijuana possession cases for people with fewer than three arrests or citations. It also follows up a Chicago ordinance from 2012 that allowed police to give tickets of $250 to $500 for people caught with 15 grams or less of weed.
The proposal passed the House on a 62-53 vote, drawing support from both Democratic and Republican lawmakers. It now goes to the Senate.
"I think police have been bogged down with petty possession crimes," said Rep. Ron Sandack (R-Downers Grove). "I think courts have been bogged down with petty possession crimes."
Some lawmakers opposed a provision of the bill which would prevent drivers who test positive for small traces of marijuana from being charged with driving under its influence.
"It's like a slap on the wrist," complained Rep. Keith Wheeler (R-Oswego). "There's no penalty. The effect of the bill, in some people's minds, is that marijuana is a less offensive drug than alcohol in Illinois. That concerns me." (Frankly, we don't know why the truth would concern you so greatly, Rep. Wheeler.)
Advocates point out that since cannabis can stay in a person's system much longer than alcohol, it's possible for drivers to be charged with DUI based on its presence even if they show no signs of impairment.
Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart, the Illinois Bar Association and the Illinois Office of the State's Attorney Appellate Prosecutor all support the bill, saying it would help relieve an overcrowded court system.