Possession of small amounts of marijuana would be punishable by a fine rather than jail time under legislation approved Thursday by the Illinois Senate.
The bill, House Bill 218, had already been approved by the House, so it now goes to Gov. Bruce Rauner. Catherine Kelly, a spokeswoman for Rauner, said the governor “will carefully consider any legislation that crosses his desk.”
If signed by the governor, the legislation would apply to people caught with less than 15 grams of marijuana — roughly the equivalent of 25 joints.
Under current law, possession of even a single joint can result in jail time and a criminal record.
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The new legislation would make possession of less than 15 grams similar to a traffic ticket. There would be no court appearance required, and there would be a fine of up to $125, except in municipalities that enact stiffer penalties. In addition, the court records for the offenses would automatically get erased each year.
Two of the metro-east’s senators voted in favor of the bill, while two voted against. Their votes went along party lines.
Sen. Bill Haine, an Alton Democrat, and Sen. James Clayborne, a Belleville Democrat, voted in favor. Voting in opposition were Sen. Dave Luechtefeld, R-Okawville, and Sen. Kyle McCarter, R-Lebanon.
Haine, in a previous debate, said the state shouldn’t be making criminals out of young people, and harming their futures, over possession of small amounts of marijuana.
“The gist of the bill is to avoid the criminalization — of young people mainly — on misdemeanor amounts of marijuana,” Haine said.
The bill’s House sponsor, Rep. Kelly Cassidy, D-Chicago, said Thursday: “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.”
Chris Lindsey, a legislative analyst for the Marijuana Policy Project, which favors legalization of marijuana, said: “We hope Gov. Rauner will sign this important and broadly supported legislation. This is a sensible alternative to Illinois’ needlessly complicated and draconian marijuana possession laws. It’s time to stop destroying people’s lives over possession of a substance that is undeniably less harmful than alcohol.”
The Senate voted 39-17 in favor of the bill.
The House passed the bill last month with a 62-53 vote.
Under current Illinois law, possession of up to 2.5 grams of marijuana is a class C misdemeanor punishable by up to 30 days in jail and a fine of up to $1,500. Possession of 2.5 to 10 grams is a class B misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail and a fine up to $1,500. Possession of 10-30 grams is a class 4 felony punishable by up to one year in jail and a fine up to $1,500.
Supporters of the measure say it fits well with Rauner’s goal of reducing the state’s prison population by 25 percent over the next 10 years. They say the state’s overcrowded jails and prisons should house more hardened criminals, not low-level drug offenders.
Sen. Jason Barickman, a Republican from Champaign, said: “Every person you talk to in this state wants us to find ways to save money. This legislation gives us a way to do that. It will save some money at the state level, and give us the opportunity to save money at the local level.”
Critics argued that the bill has no mechanism for steering repeat offenders to treatment.
Under the bill, offenders would have their records expunged after six months.
The bill also would prohibit driving while under the influence of marijuana, and includes a mechanism for determining whether a driver is under the influence.
Also Thursday, the Senate approved a Haine bill that would extend the state’s medical marijuana pilot program. The medical marijuana program, as initially approved in 2013, called for the program to end on Jan. 1, 2018. But there have been unexpected delays in getting the program started.
Under Haine’s bill, the program would end four years after the first dispensary is approved by the state. That change is expected to extend the program about 18 months.
“This program was signed into law two years ago and still has yet to be effectively implemented due to bureaucratic barriers from the previous administration,” Haine said. “This legislation sets a new deadline for this program to get up and running. It’s time to quit dragging our feet. Let’s get this done and give patients access to the care they need.”
The extension, contained in House Bill 3299, has already been approved by the House, and now goes to Rauner.
At a glance
▪ The new legislation would make possession of less than 15 grams similar to a traffic ticket.
▪ There would be no court appearance required, and there would be a fine of up to $125, except in municipalities that enact stiffer penalties.
▪ The court records for the offenses would automatically get erased each year.