It’s monumental when any state decides to loosen their laws on cannabis. But when a historically important state does it, it sets precedent for the rest of the country to listen, observe and possibly follow. The latest state to decriminalize marijuana is a big one. Yesterday, the Illinois state legislature voted to decriminalize possession of small amounts of pot in a measure that will also include barring cops from arresting people for that offense. Instead, people who get busted will be fined.
According to an article in the Chicago Tribune, low-level cannabis possession would go from a crime with fines up to $2,500 and up to a year in a jail to something similar to a traffic ticket: no court time and a fine of up to $125 for those caught with 15 grams or less.
Last month, the Illinois Senate voted to approve the legislation after it cleared the House. It won’t land on Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner’s desk until sponsors of the measure add and approve what they call “cleanup language”. Supporters feel the measure will help keep low-level drug offenders out of the state’s jails and prisons, while Rep. Kelly Cassidy, D-Chicago, said she doubted that decriminalization would lead to the legalization of marijuana in Illinois, but that things are flowing in that direction. Opponents of decriminalization spoke out, saying that the measure doesn’t include treatment requirements or a limit on the number of tickets someone can receive.
The article also reported that one other less-talked-about provision of the measure will change the state’s zero-tolerance law for driving with marijuana in one’s system. Because marijuana stays in the body long after the THC has worn off, instead of drivers being considered intoxicated with any amount of pot in their systems, the new limit would be 15 nanograms of THC per milliliter of blood, or 25 nanograms per milliliter of saliva. Just like with alcohol, police would still be able to use field sobriety tests to see if a person is under the influence.
Once the measure is signed into law, it would take effect January 1, 2016 and make Illinois the 18th state to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana. Almost half the country has already legalized the use of medical marijuana.