Cannabis connoisseurs toking it up in Illinois may soon find themselves with the freedom to carry around a little weed without having to worry about a despicable run in with the law.
Governor Bruce Rauner told reporters last week that he would likely sign a bill that was pushed through last week by the state legislature that would eliminate the criminal penalties associated with minor pot possession.
“I’ll probably be comfortable with it,” Rauner said. “I’ve got to see what’s there.”
Last Wednesday, the House of Representatives voted 64-to-50 in favor of a measure (Senate Bill 2228) designed to force police all over the state to treat small time marijuana offenses as a civil infraction instead of a criminal offense. The proposal, which was brought to the table by Senator Heather Steans, would simply prevent the average cannabis user from suffering the wrath of the criminal justice system as long as he or she was not holding more than 10 grams of weed.
Although the tone of the Governor’s latest remarks may allude to the possibility of a veto, it is important to understand that this legislation was drafted using the recommendations he offered up last year upon his rejection of a similar measure. In 2015, the General Assembly approved a decriminalization bill that suggested a fine between $55-$125 for anything of over 15 grams. Yet Rauner tossed out the proposal because he felt it was too liberal in its approach – suggesting that legislation with a lower possession limit and higher fines would be more apt to earn a spot on the books.
Another concern expressed by the Rauner Administration is that the previous bill would have allowed a much higher threshold for stoned driving than any other state. The 2015 proposal suggested that motorists could not be busted for operating under the influence unless they tested positive for at least 15 nanograms of THC per milliliter of blood. Rauner was frightened that making Illinois the most tolerate state in the nation with regard to driving high would cause the state to erupt into the Thunderdome, especially considering the state’s current zero-tolerance policy. So he asked lawmakers to downgrade the limit to something more comparable to what is being used in other states.
The current legislation addresses the stoned driving issue by simply imposing a limit of 5 nanograms per milliliter of blood – the same boundary being used in Colorado and Washington.
As it stands, anyone caught in possession of up to 10 grams of pot can be prosecuted for a class C misdemeanor, which comes with a penalty of up to six months in jail and a maximum fine of $1,500. Even someone holding only enough weed for a joint can still be locked up for up to 30 days and pay more than a thousand dollars in fines. The new law would simply punish these offenders by making them pay a fine between $100 and $200.
If Governor Rauner signs the bill, Illinois will become the 21st state in the nation to decriminalize marijuana possession.
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