Daily Egyptian

Illinois House sends Rauner new marijuana decriminalization bill

By Kevin Hoffman, Reboot Illinois

Legislation sent to Gov. Bruce Rauner would decriminalize cannabis in Illinois and make possession of small amounts a civil violation punishable by a fine.

If the governor signs Senate Bill 2228, people caught in possession of 10 grams or less of marijuana would be fined between $100 and $200 instead of being arrested and charged with a misdemeanor. Municipalities would be able to add to fines or penalties, such as requiring substance abuse treatment. Civil citations would be expunged every six months on Jan. 1 and July 1.

Under current state law, marijuana possession of up to 10 grams is classified as a class B misdemeanor and is punishable by fines up to $1,500 and six months in jail.

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A similar measure passed both the House and Senate last year, but Rauner used his amendatory veto in August to recommend changes to the legislation, arguing it allowed people to carry too much marijuana and the fines were too low.

The bill approved by House lawmakers on Wednesday incorporates the governor’s suggestions, which drops the maximum amount a person can carry from 15 to 10 grams and increases the range of fines from $55 to $125 to $100 and $200.

In addition, the legislation would relax the state’s zero-tolerance policy for driving under the influence, meaning drivers would not be charged with a DUI unless they have five or more nanograms of THC in their blood, or 10 nanograms in their saliva. Currently, drivers can be charged if drug tests detect the presence of any amount of THC, regardless of when the cannabis was consumed.

The bill’s chief House sponsor, state Rep. Kelly Cassidy, D-Chicago, said the new proposal completely reflects the governor’s amendatory veto. Rauner suggested last year he would approve legislation that included his changes.

When asked whether she thinks the tense and divisive relationship between Rauner and Democrats in the General Assembly would affect the governor’s decision, Cassidy said it should not because the legislation is within the scope of Rauner’s criminal justice reforms.

“We may not agree on a lot of things, but criminal justice reform can and should be our sweet spot for cooperative efforts,” said Cassidy.

Proponents of the bill say it will help the governor achieve some of his proposed criminal justice reforms, including reducing the state’s prison population by 25 percent by 2025 and saving the state money.

According to the American Civil Liberties Union, Illinois since 2010 has spent more than $220 million in police, legal and corrections costs just to enforce cannabis possession laws.

As for discussions on legalizing marijuana entirely, Cassidy said state lawmakers won’t be getting there anytime soon, even though the public is ready to have that debate.

“I have said for years, people evolve more quickly than politicians.”

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