Illinois House passes marijuana decriminalization bill, governor’s decision pending


Zack Laurence/Daily Senior Staffer

PharmaCannis is Evanston’s medical marijuana dispensary located at 1804 Maple Ave. The Illinois House of Representatives passed a bill Wednesday to create a ticket-based system to fine people caught with small amounts of marijuana rather than arrest them.

Robin Opsahl, City Editor

A bill that would decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana and establish a new marijuana intoxication standard for driving passed the state House of Representatives on Wednesday, and now awaits approval from Gov. Bruce Rauner.

The House moved for the state to go from arresting and jailing people caught with small amounts of marijuana to a ticket-based system. The bill proposes that instead of making arrests for possession of 10 grams or less, offenders would receive tickets between $100 and $200 per offense. Anyone ticketed would also automatically have their record of the incident expunged six months after receiving the ticket.

“Illinois is long overdue for creating marijuana policies that treat our residents more fairly and free law enforcement up for more serious crime,” Rep. Kelly Cassidy (D-Chicago), who sponsored the bill, said in a statement. “We should not spend our resources arresting and jailing people just for the possession of a small amount of marijuana.”

Although a similar bill was vetoed by Rauner last year, the governor told AP reporters that he would “probably be comfortable” with passing the decriminalization bill, but didn’t make any guarantees. Some of the changes between the current and previous legislation came from Rauner’s recommendations from his previous veto, such as lowering the amount of possession from 15 grams to 10 grams, as well as raising fines from between $55 to $125 to between $100 and $200.

Currently, possession of up to 10 grams of marijuana is a class B misdemeanor that could result in up to six months in jail and fines of up to $1,500 under state law. However, Evanston, like Chicago and other metropolitan areas in the state, has already passed local ordinances similar to the bill’s proposals that police can use in place of the state law, Evanston police Cmdr. Joseph Dugan said.

“We aren’t just disregarding state laws,” Dugan said. “We have different options; we don’t have to go with the state charges. There are certain criteria we look at, like if someone has a previous conviction or if someone has another charge that we take into consideration when we decide what to charge someone under.”

In addition to possession laws, the bill also looks to change the state’s zero-tolerance policy for driving under the influence to look only at current levels of intoxication. Under current law, a driver can be charged with a DUI if any trace of marijuana is found, which can stay in one’s system for weeks after ingestion, even if they show no signs of impairment.

The new legislation proposes police test the driver’s level of THC in their blood and saliva to determine whether they should be given a DUI. Evanston does not have any local ordinances regarding this, Dugan said, and may have to change how they operate if the law were to pass.

“As far as for driving in Evanston, we follow the Illinois vehicle code,” Dugan said. “We already have a system that looks like the new legislation for possession, but for things like DUIs, we would have to look more deeply at what it entails.”

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