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Steans' plan to decriminalize marijuana possession goes to governor

decrim 041916State Senator Heather Steans (D-Chicago 7th) secured Senate passage in April of legislation that decriminalizes the possession of 10 grams or less of cannabis, instead making it a civil violation statewide while still giving local governments discretion to impose additional fines or drug treatment requirements. That measure, which now reflects the governor's stated concerns when he vetoed a previous effort, passed in the House yesterday.

“The criminal prosecution of marijuana possession has become a festering site of inequity in Illinois, and we believe there’s a better way,” Steans said. “Although substantially the same percentage of African-American and white individuals use marijuana, black Illinoisans are arrested for cannabis possession at seven times the rate of white residents."

"Making possession of small amounts of marijuana a civil rather than a criminal offense will free up law enforcement resources and allow us to focus on offering drug treatment alternatives rather than disproportionately arresting and incarcerating people who already face disadvantages.”

The legislation also realigns standards used to determine whether a driver is under the influence of cannabis. Because THC, the compound in marijuana that produces its characteristic “high,” can remain in a person’s bloodstream long after he or she is no longer impaired, there is a need to redefine the threshold in order to ensure that drivers are being tested for their current level of impairment rather than their past usage. The new standard would mirror the current law regarding blood alcohol levels.

Currently, possession of up to 2.5 grams of cannabis is a Class C misdemeanor, while possession of between 2.5 and 10 grams of the substance is considered a Class B misdemeanor. Almost 50,000 Illinoisans are arrested for cannabis possession each year. Under Steans’ proposal, possession of up to 10 grams would be a civil violation punishable by a fine of between $100 and $200. The state’s local governments, more than 100 of which have already passed ordinances removing at least some criminal penalties for cannabis possession, would be able to assess additional fines and conditions, such as a requirement that the violator enter a drug treatment program, but could not impose criminal penalties. Records of cannabis-related civil violations would be automatically expunged each year.

Senate Bill 2228 passed the Senate by a vote of 40-14 in April and the House by 64-50 and now goes to the governor.

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