Measure signed today will fine, not jail, those found in possession of 10g or less
SPRINGFIELD – Under a measure signed into law today, possessing 10 grams of marijuana or less will no longer be punishable in Illinois with jail time or the stigma of a criminal record. The new statute, which State Senator Heather Steans (D-Chicago 7th) and Representative Kelly Cassidy (D-Chicago 14th) sponsored, makes minor pot possession a civil offense, subject to a fine of between $100 and $200.
“Illinois had a drug policy on the books that wasn’t making the public any safer but was exacerbating unacceptable inequalities in the criminal justice system,” Steans said. “By decriminalizing the possession of small amounts of cannabis, we’re eliminating something that in practice had become a net that disproportionately ensnared minorities and the poor, then stigmatized them with a criminal record that made it difficult to get a job or an education.”
Although a similar percentage of whites and African-Americans use cannabis, data reveal that black Illinoisans are arrested for marijuana possession at a rate seven times that of white residents.
Previously, possession of up to 2.5 grams of cannabis was a Class C misdemeanor, while possession of between 2.5 and 10 grams was considered a Class B misdemeanor. Almost 50,000 Illinoisans are arrested for cannabis possession each year. More than 100 local governments in Illinois have already passed ordinances removing at least some criminal penalties for cannabis possession. Under the new law, municipalities would still be able to assess additional fines and conditions, such drug treatment requirements. Records of cannabis-related violations will be automatically expunged each year.
The new law, which takes effect immediately, also realigns standards used to determine whether a driver is under the influence of cannabis. Because THC, the compound in marijuana that produces its characteristic “high,” can remain in a person’s bloodstream long after he or she is no longer impaired, there was a need to redefine the threshold in order to ensure that drivers are being tested for their current level of impairment rather than their past usage. The new standard mirrors the current law regarding blood alcohol levels.
“This is commonsense, carefully crafted legislation that recognizes the deleterious effects arrests and prosecutions for small-scale cannabis possession have had on individuals, families and communities,” Steans said. “Our drug policy should reflect a genuine concern for public health and public safety, not enshrine in state law the fears and biases of the past.”