Illinois has become the twenty-first state in the nation to eliminate the criminal penalties associated with the minor possession of marijuana.
Governor Bruce Rauner has put a new law on the books aimed at ensuring that the average cannabis consumer no longer witnesses the inside of a jail cell for simply holding small amounts of the herb for personal use. Now, anyone caught with up to 10 grams of marijuana by state or local law enforcement will simply be issued a fine between $100 and $200 – a significant improvement from the previous charge of a class B misdemeanor resulting in up to six months in jail and fines maxing out at $1,500.
“We applaud Governor Rauner and the legislature for replacing Illinois’s needlessly draconian marijuana possession law with a much more sensible policy,” said Chris Lindsey, senior legislative counsel for the Marijuana Policy Project. “This commonsense legislation will prevent countless citizens from having their lives turned upside down by a marijuana possession arrest.”
It was revealed earlier last week that Governor Rauner, who was given 60 days to make a decision on Senate Bill 2228, was planning to meet with the Illinois State Police to discuss the newly proposed decriminalization policy in an attempt to guarantee the law “could be implemented in the best interests of the public.” Although some supporters were nervous that including law enforcement in the final decision might deter the measure once again, in 2016, policy experts did not seem too concerned by the idea of Rauner communicating with police before gracing the bill with his signature.
“At the end of the day, they’re going to be the ones enforcing it, and it makes sense for their perspectives to at least be considered,” Tom Angell, chairman of the Marijuana Majority, told HIGH TIMES.
In addition to petty pot possession no longer being a criminal offense, motorists will also have more of a fighting chance at beating stoned driving charges in court. The new law does away with the state’s previous no-tolerance policy on drugged driving and replaces it with a legal limit of five nanograms of THC per milliliter of blood, or up to 10 nanograms of THC in the case of a saliva test. These limits are relatively standard in legal marijuana states like Colorado.
All of the particulars included in the new law were designed under the guidance of the Rauner Administration. Last year, a similar measure was approved by the General Assembly, one asking for the decriminalization of up to 15 grams of weed with fines ranging between $55 and $125. However, Rauner vetoed that bill because he felt the THC limits and the fines were too conservative. The Governor’s recommendations were then used to draft the latest measure, which was introduced at the beginning of the year by Senator Heather Steans.
The new decimalization law is effective immediately. Local ordinances, however, will not be impacted by the change.
“The safety of Illinois citizens, and the motoring public, will always remain the utmost priority of the Illinois State Police (ISP). ISP officers will continue to enforce the law, while being mindful of the penalty changes for smaller amounts of cannabis,” said ISP Director Leo P. Schmitz. “The public is reminded that cannabis possession without a medical marijuana card is still illegal; the penalty and fines have changed. In addition, drivers under the influence of cannabis will still be arrested and prosecuted.”
Unfortunately, while the new law will prevent thousands of people from going to jail for minor pot possession, it will not stop them from losing ownership of their weed if they happen to get busted. The ISP said, “Following the adjudication of the citation in court, seized cannabis and paraphernalia will be destroyed.”