While Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner has given every indication that he plans to sign a bill into law that would eliminate the criminal penalties associated with small time pot possession, the state’s executive control reportedly plans to first meet with leaders of the state police force to ensure the new policy is “in the best interests of the public.”
It was back in April when a piece of legislation (Senate Bill 2228) aimed at decriminalizing the possession of marijuana in the Land of Lincoln received final approval from the General Assembly, earning itself a first class ticket to the desk of Governor Rauner for a signature. By all accounts the bill was considered a sure thing, if for no other reason than the fact that it was designed under the strict guidance of the Rauner Administration.
In 2015, a similar bill found the support of the General Assembly, but it was ultimately vetoed by Rauner based on a few items that he felt would make the law too conservative toward the cause. The Governor was worried that high possession limits and low fines would create a less than appetizing environment for many of the state’s citizens, suggesting that legislative forces consider a more restrictive policy. Of course, that is exactly what they did.
The new legislation, which was brought to the table earlier this year by Senator Heather Steans, allows anyone caught holding up to 10 grams of marijuana to be fined somewhere in the vicinity of $100-$200 rather than being dragged down to the local jail. This modest adjustment to the language, which previously suggested a possession limit of 15 grams and fines ranging from $55-$125, also includes a provision intended to eliminate the state’s no-tolerance policy for drugged driving, calling for a legal limit of 5 nanograms of THC per milliliter of blood – the current standard being used in states like Colorado and Washington.
Unfortunately, the concept of removing the criminal penalties for pot possession, not to mention making a significant adjustment to the state’s drugged driving law, has made law enforcement agencies nervous. Illinois Sheriff’s Association executive director Greg Sullivan recently told the Associated Press that he was not in favor of the bill because it would not be severe enough on minors caught in possession of pot. His concern is that the law will contribute to an increase in youth drug abuse because they’ll simply be allowed to pay a small fine without the knowledge of the parents. “As long as someone can afford the fines, guess what, I may never know it as a parent. I’ve got a problem with that,” he said.
It is likely these and other concerns that have prompted an upcoming meeting between Governor Rauner and the Illinois State Police where they plan to go over the proposed decriminalization law.
“Part of the review process is working with the Illinois State Police to ensure that the law can be implemented in the best interests of the public,” said Catherine Kelly, a spokesperson the Rauner Administration.
Some advocates of the bill are worried that the last minute influence of law enforcement could, once again, sabotage decriminalization from happening in 2016. But policy experts argue that the meeting is likely just political protocol intended get the police on the same page with governing forces.
“While I’d much rather see the governor go ahead and sign this sensible reform into law without further delay, I’m actually not too worried about the fact that he’s communicating with law enforcement about it,” Tom Angell, chairman of the Marijuana Majority, told HIGH TIMES. “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. And, as the growth of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition shows, more and more cops are actually starting to realize that punitive marijuana laws are a failure. I doubt that this informal consultation will result in reform being derailed.”
The bill was sent to Governor Rauner’s office on June 16, giving him 60 days to make a decision on the issue. Therefore, it is conceivable that Illinois could become the 17th state in the nation to decriminalize petty pot possession sometime before September.