One Step Closer to Marijuana Decriminalization

Posted on in Criminal Defense

decriminalization, Illinois law, Chicago criminal defense attorneyWhile the approved medical use of marijuana has been technically legal in the state of Illinois for almost a year and half, other legislation has made its way through Springfield that would decriminalize low-level possession for all residents. Last week, the Illinois Senate approved a measure that would make possessing small amounts of marijuana punishable as a civil offense, similar to a traffic ticket, rather than a criminal violation.

After getting through the state House last month, the bill was approved in the Senate by a vote of 37-19. It is not, however, ready for Governor Bruce Rauner’s signature yet, as sponsors indicate approval of some final cleanup language is needed first. If ultimately approved, Illinois would become the 18th state to officially decriminalize low-level marijuana possession.

It is important for Illinois residents to realize that there is a difference between decriminalization and legalization. Even if the measure is signed into law, this particular bill will not legalize the possession or recreational use of marijuana in the state. Instead, it would change the prosecution of low-level possession, defined as up to 15 grams which would be about 25-30 cigarette-sized joints, from a misdemeanor criminal offense to a civil offense. Rather than facing the large fines and possible prison time associated with the current possession laws, the proposed bill would require offenders to pay a fine of up to $125 with no court appearance or criminal prosecution.

One of the bill’s sponsors, Senator Michael Noland, D-Elgin, believes that such a change is necessary, in spite of his own feelings about the use of marijuana. “It’s wrong,” he said and indicated that he would continue to encourage his children and others not to use it. Those that choose otherwise, however, should not be subject to having their lives ruined. “People have been arrested at very young ages for [marijuana possession] and have suffered the consequences,” Noland said.

Despite fairly widespread support, the future of the measure still remains uncertain. Republican Governor Bruce Rauner has taken a rather skeptical approach to marijuana-related legislation, and has not given an indication on what he will do on the issue of decriminalization. So far, his office has only pledged to “carefully consider any legislation that crosses his desk,” according to spokeswoman Catherine Kelly.

Until such a measure is enacted into law, the possession of marijuana in Illinois is a crime. As such, penalties can be severe and the impact to a person’s life can be serious. If you have been charged with any type of drug-related crime, contact an experienced Chicago criminal defense attorney. We will review your case and help you understand your options under the law. Call 312-629-0699 today to schedule your free consultation.

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