Getting caught with a small amount of marijuana would result in a fine instead of arrest under a measure the Illinois House approved Thursday.
Low-level cannabis possession would go from a crime with fines of up to $2,500 and up to a year in jail to be more like a traffic ticket: no court time and a fine of up to $125. The measure would apply to people caught with 15 grams or less, the equivalent of about 25 cigarette-size joints.
Sponsoring Rep. Kelly Cassidy, D-Chicago, said the measure wouldn’t override laws in cities like Chicago that already have fines in place for marijuana possession but is aimed at creating a uniform penalty throughout the state and eliminating the option for police to arrest people carrying small amounts of pot.
“We currently have a patchwork of local ordinances where there is the possibility of getting a ticket but not a given that you’ll get a ticket, so it’s an open question where you go whether you’re going to get arrested or get a ticket,” Cassidy said. “That creates a system whereby it depends on where you live, and what you look like, and unfortunately more often than not, it is folks who are black and brown who are being arrested, who are being pulled off the streets, pulled away from their jobs and their families and put into our jails and prisons.”
The House bill comes days after Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez announced her office would stop prosecuting low-level marijuana possession cases for people with fewer than three arrests or citations. It also follows a measure enacted by Chicago in 2012 that allowed police to issue tickets of $250 to $500 for someone caught with 15 grams or less of marijuana.
The proposal, sent to the Senate on a 62-53 vote, drew support from both Republican and Democratic lawmakers. Republican Rep. Ron Sandack of Downers Grove said the legislation fits in with Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner’s goal of reducing the number of adults and juveniles sent to jail by 25 percent over 10 years.
“I think police have been bogged down with petty possession crimes,” Sandack said. “I think courts have been bogged down with petty possession crimes. These people, they’re not dealers. They have no intent to sell.”
Others opposed a provision in the bill that would prevent drivers who test positive for small traces of marijuana from being charged with driving under the influence.
“It’s like a slap on the wrist. There’s no penalty,” said Rep. Keith Wheeler, R-Oswego. “The effect of the bill, in some people’s minds, is that marijuana is a less offensive drug than alcohol in Illinois. That concerns me.”
But advocates argue that because marijuana can stay in a person’s system for a longer period of time than alcohol, it’s possible someone could be charged with a DUI even if he or she isn’t showing signs of impairment.
Supporters including Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart, the Illinois Bar Association and the Illinois Office of the State’s Attorney Appellate Prosecutor said the measure would help relieve an overburdened court system.
Source: Chicago Tribune