Illinois is trying once again to follow other states in decriminalizing marijuana possession, but we are up against strong resistance from anti-marijuana advocates and law enforcement.
Many states are rethinking their stand on marijuana. Four states – Colorado, Washington, Alaska, and Oregon – have legalized marijuana for recreational use. Numerous states, including Illinois’ 4-year pilot program, have medical marijuana. And 15 states – including Illinois – are proposing decriminalization bills for marijuana possession.
Last year, Republican Governor Bruce Rauner vetoed a similar bill to decriminalize marijuana, but he offered legislators some guidance on how to modify the bill if they wanted to try again. The original bill proposed that possessing 15 or less grams of marijuana would be a civil offense punishable by a fine between $55 and $125. The new bill, in line with Rauner’s suggestions, has lowered the amount of marijuana to 10 grams and increased the fine to between $100 and $200.
This shouldn’t be such an issue considering that Chicago and nearly 100 Illinois communities currently allow police officers to use their own discretion in issuing citations instead of arresting someone for possessing small amounts of the drug. What the bill would do is provide a more consistent approach to how all of Illinois’ law enforcement agencies treat small amounts of marijuana. Moreover, it would align with Rauner’s goal of reducing the prison population.
So if the bill passes in the Senate and moves on to the House, there could be a good chance at decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana relatively soon. But what if the bill dies and we’re left with our current laws and penalties?
Current Illinois Marijuana Laws and Penalties
As it stands right now, the laws and penalties regarding marijuana in our state are, in a word, harsh. If the new bill passes, possessing 10 grams or less of marijuana would only require a civil fine up to $200. Right now, if you’re found with 10 grams or less, you can be charged with a criminal misdemeanor and could be spending up to 6 months in jail and paying $1,500 in fines! That’s quite a difference.
And it could make all the difference to someone who was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Jail can ruin a person’s life. But decriminalizing marijuana possession can keep someone out of jail and continuing to be a productive member of society.
So what happens if someone is accused of possessing more than 10 grams? Illinois and other states follow the rule that the greater the amount of marijuana in question, the harsher the penalties.
- 10 to 30 grams: This is a misdemeanor punishable by up to 1 year in jail and a fine up to $2,500.
- 30 to 500 grams: This is a felony punishable by a mandatory minimum of 1 year in jail and a maximum of 6 years with a fine up to $25,000.
- 500 to 2,000 grams: This is a felony punishable by a mandatory minimum of 2 years in jail and a maximum of 10 years with a fine up to $25,000.
While possessing a large amount of marijuana will still be taken very seriously in our state, decriminalizing marijuana could help decrease prison populations and allow otherwise productive, law-abiding people to continue with their lives. But regardless of whether this new bill pass or not, if you’re charged with marijuana possession, you should reach out to an experienced Illinois drug possession attorney to get those charges reduced, dropped, or dismissed.
About the Author:
Andrew M. Weisberg is a former felony prosecutor who now serves as a defense attorney in the greater Chicago area. He has extensive experience in handling all types of criminal cases, from sex offenses and domestic violence to retail theft-related crimes, Murder, and drug crimes.