The Illinois Senate approved a bill 40-14 on Tuesday that would replace criminal penalties with a civil fine for possession of a personal amount of marijuana. It will now go to the House for further consideration.
SB 2228, introduced by Sen. Heather Steans (D-Chicago), would make possession of up to 10 grams of marijuana a civil violation punishable by a fine of $100-$200. Adults would no longer face time in jail, and the civil offense would be automatically expunged in order to prevent a permanent criminal record. The proposal largely mirrors legislation introduced in the House by Rep. Kelly Cassidy and reflects amendments Gov. Bruce Rauner proposed when he vetoed a similar bill last year.
Under current Illinois law, possession of up to 2.5 grams of marijuana is a class C misdemeanor punishable by up to 30 days in jail and/or a fine of up to $1,500; possession of 2.5-10 grams is a class B misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail and/or a fine of up to $1,500; and possession of more than 10 grams up to 30 grams is a class 4 felony punishable by up to one year in jail and/or a $1,500 fine. More than 100 Illinois communities have already removed criminal penalties for simple marijuana possession.
"We need to replace Illinois's current patchwork of marijuana possession laws with a consistent standard that will be applied fairly across the state," Sen. Steans said. "People should not be sent to jail for an offense that would have been punishable by a small fine if it had occurred a few miles down the road. It's irrational, it's unpredictable, and it's unjust."
Twenty states and the District of Columbia have removed the threat of jail time for simple marijuana possession.
"Illinois spends way too much money imposing costly criminal penalties on people who are found in possession of a personal amount of marijuana," said Chris Lindsey, a senior legislative analyst for the Marijuana Policy Project. "Serious penalties should be reserved for people who commit serious crimes, not used to punish marijuana consumers. Nobody should face a lifelong criminal record simply for possessing a substance that is less harmful than alcohol."
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Source: The Marijuana Policy Project is the nation's largest marijuana policy organization. For more information, visit www.MarijuanaPolicy.org.