Cannabis Decriminalization In Illinois Now Awaits The Governor's Signature

Claire Bernish
May 22, 2015

(ANTIMEDIA) Cannabis decriminalization in Illinois is now one signature away after the Senate passed the bill with 37 in favor, and 19 opposed. Possession of up to 15 grams would be a civil violation equivalent to a parking ticket with a fine of up to $125 if Governor Bruce Rauner approves the measure, though his spokesperson only offered the canned response: “The governor will carefully consider any legislation that crosses his desk.”

Illinois lawmakers have been under pressure to thin out the state’s overcrowded jails and prisons after the governor announced plans to reduce those populations by 25% over the next ten years. Currently, possession of up to two grams could put someone in jail for up to 30 days and/or fine them up to $1,500. Possession of 10-30 grams is listed as a felony with a possible fine and up to a year behind bars. Rep. Kelly Cassidy, who helped introduce the bill in the House, explained, “Serious criminal penalties should be reserved for individuals who commit serious crimes. The possibility of jail time should not even be on the table when it comes to simple marijuana possession. Criminalizing people for marijuana possession is not a good use of our state’s limited law enforcement resources.”

The legislation has its opponents, particularly due to the lack of a limit on the number of such tickets a person could receive without a stipulation to be directed to treatment. As Senator Chapin Rose said, “To have no cap on the number of times you can come through here, maybe you can use some drug treatment.”

But most of the legislators see the benefits such a measure could have for those who wouldn’t otherwise be considered criminals — and as Senator Michael Noland, who doesn’t approve of marijuana use, sees it, “It’s wrong, and I would encourage the children of this state and my own children to abstain from the use of the substance, but people do use this, and it should not be something that ruins social lives and professional lives as well. People have been arrested at very young ages for this and have suffered the consequences.”

If it passes, the law will prevent people found in possession of cannabis from being arrested by police. Illinois is among 23 states where medical marijuana is legal, 15 states have some degree of decriminalization, and Washington DC and four others have legalized recreational use of the plant.

The tide certainly is turning, as a Pew Research poll from April found a full 53% of the country’s population believe the plant should simply be legal.

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