Illinois Senate Approves Marijuana Decriminalization Bill, Chances of Becoming Law Are Good

Illinois is on the verge of passing legislation this session that will allow the average stoner to freely possess small amounts of marijuana without facing criminal charges.

On Tuesday, the Illinois Senate voted 40-to-14 in favor of a bill that would decriminalize minor marijuana possession from Chicago all the way down to the municipalities of Carmi and Mt. Carmel—replacing the concept of incarceration with a monetary slap on the wrist.

“We need to replace Illinois’s current patchwork of marijuana possession laws with a consistent standard that will be applied fairly across the state,” Senator Heather Steans, the bill’s primary sponsor, told HIGH TIMES in an emailed statement. “People should not be sent to jail for an offense that would have been punishable by a small fine if it had occurred a few miles down the road. It’s irrational, it’s unpredictable, and it’s unjust.”

The proposal—Senate Bill 2228—is a do-over from a similar measure that made its way successfully through the General Assembly in 2015, but ended up vetoed by Governor Bruce Rauner because he felt the bill was too conservative in its approach. The latest bill, however, was designed to appease the governor’s concerns over implementing a statewide decriminalization law by simply decreasing the amount of weed a person is permitted to carry without going to jail and increasing the fines associated with the offense.

Under the new legislation, anyone caught holding 10 grams of marijuana or less would be issued a ticket with a fine of somewhere between $100-$200. This is a minor adjustment from last year’s proposal, which allowed the possession of up to 15 grams and imposed fines between $55 and $125. Currently, any person busted with 10 grams of pot can be arrested and slapped with a criminal misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail and a $1,500 fine.

Perhaps one of the most important aspects of Senate Bill 2228 is that it comes with a provision that eliminates the state’s current zero-tolerance policy for stoned driving.

For years, Illinois law has considered a person impaired if they are discovered to have any amount of THC metabolites in their system. Regardless if a motorist smokes pot, at home, three days prior to a traffic stop, that person is still at risk of getting a DUI if an officer finds a reason to press the issue. Although far from perfect, the latest bill aims to do away with the current policy by establishing a legal limit of 5 nanograms of THC per milliliter of blood, or 10 nanaograms of THC in saliva—a system that falls right in line with how law enforcement is handling stoned driving in Colorado and Washington.

Although there is some opposition coming from Republicans—expressing concerns over whether the bill will encourage drug use—Rauner is enthusiastic about the decriminalization revamp. Earlier last month, Catherine Kelly, a spokesperson for the Rauner administration, told reporters, “We are encouraged to see the General Assembly on a path to accept the governor’s changes, and will continue monitoring the legislation as it moves forward.”

The proposal now moves to the House of Representatives for consideration.

As long as the House doesn’t dispute the measure in its current form, which is not expected to happen, the decriminalization bill could end up on the governor’s desk sometime in May. If this happens, Illinois will almost certainly join the ranks of 20 states and the District of Columbia that have decriminalized marijuana possession so that law enforcement can focus its efforts on serious crime.

“Illinois spends way too much money imposing costly criminal penalties on people who are found in possession of a personal amount of marijuana,” said Chris Lindsey of the Marijuana Policy Project. “Serious penalties should be reserved for people who commit serious crimes, not used to punish marijuana consumers. Nobody should face a lifelong criminal record simply for possessing a substance that is less harmful than alcohol.”

(Photo Courtesy of the Daily Chronic)

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