Rep. Kelly Cassidy announced Thursday that she is introducing new legislation for 2016 that would replace criminal penalties with a civil fine for possession of a personal amount of marijuana in Illinois.
HB 4357 would make possession of up to 10 grams of marijuana a civil violation punishable by a fine. 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 previously introduced by Rep. Cassidy that was approved in the Senate (37-19) on May 21 and in the House (62-53) on April 23, as well the amendments proposed by Gov. Bruce Rauner when he vetoed the bill and returned it to the legislature on August 14.
"This is a reasonable proposal that is long overdue," Rep. Cassidy said. "It needs to happen, and I am hopeful that we can make it happen quickly since it's already such familiar territory for legislators and the governor."
Members of the Illinois faith community joined Rep. Cassidy at the news conference to voice support for the bill. More than 50 clergy from around the state have signed a Religious Declaration of Clergy for a New Drug Policy, which includes support for civil rather than criminal sanctions for marijuana possession.
"When members of our communities are saddled with criminal records for possession, it hurts future job, housing, and educational prospects. Individuals become 'marked for life,'" said Rev. Alexander E. Sharp, executive director of Clergy for a New Drug Policy. "We know from experience here and across the country that harsh marijuana penalties don't deter use --- they just hurt our communities when individuals' lives are harmed from life-altering criminal records."
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. Twenty states and the District of Columbia have removed the threat of jail time for simple marijuana possession.
"It accomplishes little, if anything, to arrest nearly 50,000 individuals for low-level marijuana use in Illinois each year," said Rev. Myron McCoy, senior minister at the Chicago Temple of the First United Methodist Church. "Our current law wastes public funds and impedes the futures of our young people. We can do better as a society and as a state."
More than 100 Illinois communities have already removed criminal penalties for simple marijuana possession.
"Our current law is particularly hard on communities of color, and this bill helps bring standards that can apply to all residents of our state," said Rev. Jason Coulter, pastor of Ravenswood United Church of Christ. "Not only does this bill free up law enforcement to address serious crime, it helps ensure fairness in how the law affects lives regardless of where people live and how they look."
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The Marijuana Policy Project is the nation's largest marijuana policy organization. For more information, visit www.MarijuanaPolicy.org.