Less than a year after Governor Rauner decriminalized small amounts of marijuana, Illinois lawmakers are looking to make recreational marijuana legal throughout the state.
The measure follows the trend throughout the country (except at the federal level) to loosen laws on the drug. Previously, small amounts of marijuana would be considered a class B misdemeanor, and threaten up to six months behind bars. Now, offenders with up to 10 grams will only face a citation.
If proposals to legalize marijuana pass, users will face no consequences for possession of the drug. However, even if this happens, it will likely have little effect on the charges and penalties for other types of drug crimes throughout the state.
Penalties for Possession Charges Depend on Weight, Type of Drug
The charges and penalties for controlled substances crimes heavily depend on the amount of drugs found by law enforcement officers. A certain weight of drugs could mean the difference between possession and intent to distribute charges – something that hugely impacts the penalties that are placed on those convicted. Of course, different drugs hold different weights, and come in different sizes, so there is no cookie-cutter amount for all controlled substances.
Below is a guide to some of the more common drugs, and the amounts that qualify for possession charges in Illinois:
Marijuana: Possession starts at 10 grams and is considered a misdemeanor offense. Possession of over 30 grams (first-time offender) or 10 grams (subsequent offender) is a felony offense.
Cocaine, Heroin, Morphine, Methamphetamine, LSD: Any amount of these drugs is charged as possession. Under 15 grams is a class 4 felony. Over 15 grams is a class 1 felony.
Peyote, Barbiturates, Amphetamines, Ecstasy, GHB: Under 200 grams of these drugs is considered a class 4 felony. Over 200 grams is a class 1 felony.
Petazocine, Methaqualone, Phencyclidine, Ketamine: Under 30 grams of these drugs is considered a class 4 felony. Over 30 grams is a class 1 felony.
Anabolic Steroids: Any amount of anabolic steroids is charged as a class C misdemeanor.
The penalties for the various charges are as follows:
Class C Misdemeanor: Penalties for this charge include up to 30 days in jail and up to $1,500 in fines.
Class 4 Felony: While most class 4 felonies are penalized by up to four years in prison and up to $15,000 in fines, possession of controlled substance charges are an exception. Most of these charges allow the court to sentence a guilty defendant to probation and a substance abuse treatment program. However, this may not apply to subsequent offenders.
Class 1 Felony: Penalties for these charges range between 4-15 years in prison, with up to $20,000 in fines.
Other penalties include the loss of ability to get federal aid (grants, loans, work study programs, and so on). If the offender is sentenced to over one year in prison, they may have to give up any property (including homes and cars) that law enforcement suspects to be involved with the crime. You can learn more about Illinois forfeiture laws here.
Additionally, felons cannot vote while incarcerated, but their rights are restored once they are released. A conviction will also have an effect if you are charged later on in life, and will stay on your permanent record, which can hurt your chances at finding jobs, housing, and more.
When Are Penalties Increased?
Not all possession charges are the same. Many factors will influence sentencing, including making a plea bargain, having past charges on your record, or the intent to distribute or sell the drugs you were caught with.
Moreover, you were found with drugs within 1,000 feet of a “drug-free zone” including schools, public housing, and nursing homes, a possession with intent charge will be increased to a Class X felony. Even if you are simply charged with possession, being close to a drug-free zone may have a big impact on your sentence upon conviction.
Defenses for Drug Possession Charges
Even if you were caught with drugs, you still can build a defense strategy that can get your charges dropped. Common strategies for drug possession charges include:
- Unlawful Search and Seizure
- False Accusation
- Lack of Evidence (Prosecution Cannot Present Drugs Found)
- Drugs Were Planted
- Substances Are Not Drugs You Were Arrested For
- Possession of Marijuana for Medicinal Purposes
If you are facing intent to distribute or trafficking charges, it may be wise to try and reduce the charges to possession.
Not all of these defense strategies will be appropriate for your case. Your best bet for defending against these charges is talking to a Chicago drug possession lawyer.
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.