Illinois Governor Tweaks Decriminalization Bill, Likely to Become Law

Illinois may be well on its way to becoming the next state to decriminalize the possession of marijuana.

Earlier last week, Governor Bruce Rauner exercised his veto authority to pen a few amendments to a bill that would allow the state to strip away the criminal penalties associated with pot possession by making the offense a civil infraction punishable with only a fine. However, Ruaner said that although he supports the “fundamental purposes” behind decriminalization, he felt the original bill, which has been sitting on his desk for the past couple of months awaiting some form of action, did not carry a heavy enough hand against marijuana offenders.

The Illinois legislature passed a measure in May to reduce the penalties for pot possession across the state. The proposal suggested that instead of throwing marijuana offenders in jail, any person caught with less than 15 grams should simply be ticketed to the tune of up to $125. Yet, this is just one of the areas where the Governor and state lawmakers apparently do not agree. In the amendatory veto, Rauner suggests lowering the threshold to include anyone caught in possession of 10 grams of marijuana or less, with those people receiving a fine of up to $200.

Some of the bill’s sponsors argue this change will not fully achieve the objective of criminal justice reform.

“This goal of reducing the prison population is one that we share, but it’s not going to be easy and it’s not going to be accomplished with half measures,” Representative Kelly Cassidy told the Chicago Tribune. “[If] we want to keep people out of our jail system we have to take bold moves, and does putting someone in jail for 10 grams instead of 15 grams make us safer? I would argue it doesn’t.”

Although state lawmakers included a provision in the bill that not only would have relaxed the state’s current “no tolerance” standard in regards to stoned driving, it also would have created a limit for marijuana intoxication unmatched by any state in the nation. The original proposal suggests that motorists could register 15 nanograms of THC per milliliter of blood before they were considered driving under the influence. Again, Governor Rauner was not keen on the idea of becoming a national leader in the reform of such a controversial public safety issue, so he amended the proposal down to 5 nanograms per milliliter of blood, which is right in line with the limits currently practiced everywhere else in the country.

The amended bill was sent back to the General Assembly on Friday for final approval. Lawmakers will have 15 days from when they first reconvene to approve the measure, becoming law simply by receiving a majority vote by the House and the Senate.

While marijuana advocates do not necessarily support Governor Rauner’s decision to tweak the language of the bill, they are encouraged by the idea of Illinois becoming the 21st state to no longer make possession of small amounts of marijuana a criminal offense.

“The governor’s version is not preferable to the original bill, but it is still commonsense legislation,” Chris Lindsey, a legislative analysts with the Marijuana Policy Project. “It will still prevent countless citizens from having their lives turned upside down by an arrest for simple marijuana possession. This is a major victory for Rep. Cassidy and the Assembly, and it is an important step forward for Illinois.”

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