Although Illinois will likely decriminalize the possession of small amounts of cannabis in the near future, the proposed limits on possession and intoxication will be somewhat smaller now thanks to a couple of amendments made last week by Governor Bruce Rauner.
On Friday, the Governor finally took action on a bill that was approved in May by the State Legislature, suggesting that anyone caught in possession of 15 grams of cannabis receive a fine of up to $125 instead of being prosecuted in criminal court. Yet, while Rauner said he supports the “fundamental purposes” of the decriminalization bill, he was not sold on the idea of taking such a light approach to the offense.
Rather than reject the entire bill, the Governor simply issued an amendatory veto that lowers the possession limit to 10 grams and raises the fine to somewhere in the neighborhood of $200.
Although the Governor’s changes were small, some of the bill’s supporters argue that this move is not in the best interest of the ultimate goal – reforming the state’s criminal justice system.
“This goal of reducing the prison population is one that we share, but it’s not going to be easy and it’s not going to be accomplished with half measures,” Representative Kelly Cassidy told The Chicago Tribune. “It really comes down to with every change you make, someone gets arrested who wouldn’t otherwise. And if we want to keep people out of our jail system we have to take bold moves, and does putting someone in jail for 10 grams instead of 15 grams make us safer? I would argue it doesn’t.”
Another amendment made to the bill broaches the subject of stoned driving. The initial proposal suggests that the state should abandon its current “zero tolerance” policy for driving under the influence of marijuana by establishing a limit of 15 nanogram of THC per milliliter of blood – making Illinois the most progressive state in the union in regards to driving high. However, Governor Rauner was not having it, changing this portion of the bill to fall in line with other states across the country – allowing a limit of only 5 nanograms per milliliter of blood for intoxication to be established.
The bill now heads back to the General Assembly for final approval and will become law as long as it receives a majority vote from the House and the Senate. Lawmakers have 15 days from the start of the next session to make their decision.
Cannabis advocates say they wish Governor Rauner had kept the original bill intact, but they remain optimistic for the state’s willingness to reform its outdated pot policies.
“We hope the General Assembly will approve the amended bill and replace Illinois’ needlessly draconian marijuana possession law with a more sensible policy,” said Chris Lindsey with the Marijuana Policy Project. “Nobody should face a lifelong criminal record and potential jail time for possessing a substance that is safer than alcohol. Serious criminal penalties should be reserved for people who commit serious crimes, not low-level marijuana offenses.”
If approved, Illinois will become the 21st state to decriminalize cannabis.
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