The State of Illinois might soon join the list of states which have chosen decriminalization for possession of small amounts of cannabis. Current state law leaves 10 grams or less punishable with a misdemeanor criminal offense that could result in up to 60 days in jail and/or a $1500 fine – and though many communities throughout the state have decriminalized, officers still have the option in those places to follow state law procedures over local ordinances.
Last year, the Governor of Illinois, Bruce Rauner, vetoed a very similar bill that was passed by both the Senate and the House. His reasoning was that the bill was too lax, allowing individuals to carry too much cannabis and stating that the fines were too low. This year, a version of the bill was introduced in the Senate that addressed both of these issues and passed with a final vote of 40-14.
The bill that was passed allows individuals to possess up to 10 grams of marijuana without being charged for a criminal offense. Last year’s bill would have allowed up to 15 grams – and some opponents of the bill still think that 10 grams is still too much, saying that it is the equivalent to 20 cigarette sized marijuana joints – which is debatable and even being joked about amongst those in support for the bill.
“Quite frankly, they can be different sizes,” said sponsoring Sen. Heather Steans, D-Chicago. “One of my colleagues says the way she would roll them, it’d be about three.”
Along with lowering the amount of marijuana that someone could be in possession of before it is a criminal offense, the bill also increases the proposed fees from the last bill. The fees were originally set to be between $55-125, but at the request of the Governor ,the Senate increased the fees so that they would range between $100-200. If individual cities or counties decide to increase the fines or add stipulations, such as a drug education class, it is their right to do so.
The bill also makes one more major change to the way marijuana policy is handled in Illinois. Current laws allow drivers to be charged with a DUI if there is any trace of THC metabolites in their system – even if it has been days or weeks since they last smoked. If this bill passes, this would change to where the driver can only be charged if there is 5 nanograms or more of THC in their blood, or 10 nanograms or more in their saliva.
These changes would be in effect statewide and would allow law enforcement to spend more time taking care of more important things – like real crimes. The bill now heads over to the House for consideration – and it is expected to pass and thanks to the changes made to the bill, Governor Rauner is now in support of signing this bill into law. By May, Illinois could be the 21st state to remove criminal penalties for possession of small amounts of marijuana.