Metro-East News

Senate delays vote on lowering pot penalties

Sen. Bill Haine, D-Alton
Sen. Bill Haine, D-Alton AP

The Illinois Senate postponed a vote Thursday on a bill that would make possession of small amounts of marijuana punishable by a fine, rather than arrest.

There was debate on the bill, but its Senate sponsor asked that a vote be postponed. Sen. Mike Noland, D-Elgin, said there were some absent Senate members who had hoped to weigh in on the bill, and he wanted to give colleagues time to “sleep on this.”

If passed by the Senate and signed by Gov. Bruce Rauner, the legislation would apply to people caught with less than 15 grams of marijuana — roughly the equivalent of 25 joints. The bill, HB 218, already has cleared the House.

Under current law, possession of even a single joint is punishable by up to a year in jail and a fine up to $2,500, and it results in a criminal record.

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.

Opposition to the bill came from Republicans.

Sen. Matt Murphy, R-Palatine, said the law would allow people to be ticketed for marijuana possession “over and over and over again,” indicating an addiction problem, but “at no point is there ever going to be any intervention.”

Supporters included Sen. Bill Haine, D-Alton.

“The gist of the bill is to avoid the criminalization — of young people mainly — on misdemeanor amounts of marijuana,” Haine said.

Haine, a former state’s attorney for Madison County, said he couldn’t recall a single case where possession of a misdemeanor-level amount of marijuana resulted in someone getting drug-abuse treatment.

“Criminalizing large portions of the youthful population on theories that they’re going to receive treatment as a result of a misdemeanor arrest, for which they’re thrown into a misdemeanor docket ... is simply fantasyland,” Haine said.

Haine noted the bill prohibits driving while under the influence of marijuana. In fact, Haine said, the legislation has provisions that would give the courts better ways to determine intoxication, compared to existing law.

Contact reporter Brian Brueggemann at bbrueggemann@bnd.com or 618-239-2475. Follow him on Twitter: @B_Brueggemann.

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