In a massive feat of bipartisanship, the Illinois legislature has passed a bill to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of cannabis. A coalition of Republicans and Democrats approved the bill through the Senate with a vote of 37-19.
Having already made it through the House, the bill will go to the Republican Governor Bruce Rauner following an additional language cleanup. Should the Governor see fit to sign the measure, it will take effect on January 1, 2016.
Under the new statewide law, low-level marijuana possession would be treated more like a traffic ticket. Instead of up to a year in jail and a $2,500 fine, those caught with less than 15 grams of cannabis will face a fine of up to $125 and no court time. The new legal limit of intoxication would be 25 nanograms of THC per saliva milliliter or 15 nanograms per blood milliliter. If made into law, Illinois will join 17 other states that have decriminalized the possession of small amounts of cannabis. The state, alongside almost half the country, already allows for legal medical marijuana.
However, this new piece of legislation does not indicate a strong move towards the legalization of recreational cannabis use. Senator Michael Noland, D-Elgin, a sponsor of the bill stated:
“It’s wrong…but people do use this, and it should not be something that ruins social lives and professional lives as well.”
Supporters are focusing more on the clogged state jails as opposed to total cannabis legalization.
Earlier in 2015, Gov. Rauner announced an ambitious goal of decreasing the Illinois prison population by one quarter. Eliminating arrests and prosecutions for low-level marijuana possession would help immensely in accomplishing that goal. Furthermore, with less court costs, the state would be able to save money for other governmental projects. While the law would not override city ordinances against cannabis possession, it is an attempt to streamline how the state deals with cannabis. A spokeswoman for the governor states he will “carefully consider any legislation that crosses his desk.”
The medical marijuana program has not yet been able to get off the ground in Illinois after former Governor Pat Quinn failed to meet the end-of-the-year deadline for awarding producer and retailer licenses to applicants. The program was in limbo for some time, as it was unclear whether the new Governor, Bruce Rauner, would move forward with the permitting process.
More than 14,000 patients had already applied to the registry and 1,000 of those patients had already been approved. Without licensing growers and dispensaries, these registered patients do not have safe, reliable access to medicine. At the beginning of February, however, the state began issuing medical marijuana licenses to producers and retailers. Two licenses have been awarded so far.
Still, these hiccups in the establishment of the medical marijuana program have not halted the drive for marijuana policy reform in The Prairie State. One lawmaker aims to legalize the recreational possession and cultivation for adults 21 years of age and older. Senator Michael Noland filed Senate Bill 0753 on February 3.
This proposal would allow adults to possess up to 30 grams, which is just over 1 ounce, of cannabis for recreational purposes. This legislation would also allow for up to 5 marijuana plants to be cultivated at home.
Dan Linn, the executive director of Illinois’s branch of NORML, pointed out that this is a huge step for lawmakers, as it has been nearly 40 years since legalization was last addressed.
“This is the first bill that would remove all criminal penalties for small amounts of cannabis and cannabis plants. The last bill that was introduced like this was in the 1970’s.”
Although many states have been predicted to pass legalization amendments in 2016 and 2020, Illinois has not been near the top of those lists. Even if the legislation does not pass this time around, it is a step to encourage politicians and voters alike to begin thinking about legalization and discussing all possible outcomes. Illinois lawmakers do have the unique opportunity to become the first legislature to pass a recreational legalization amendment because of this proposal.
Legislators in Connecticut, New Mexico and Vermont are also in similar situations this session. The New Mexico Senate actually just passed their state’s recreational legalization amendment on to the House for another vote.
It will be interesting to see if any of these states make history in 2015 as the first legislative body to approve a recreational marijuana legalization proposal.
photo credit: weed portal