Marijuana decriminalization revived in Illinois Senate

Marijuana decriminalization revived in Illinois Senate

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SPRINGFIELD — A measure that would decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana has been revived in the Illinois Senate.

A similar bill the General Assembly approved last year was allowed to die after Gov. Bruce Rauner used his amendatory veto powers to propose tighter restrictions. The new bill, sponsored by Sen. Heather Steans, D-Chicago, and approved Wednesday by the Senate Criminal Law Committee, incorporates the changes Rauner suggested.

Those include lowering the threshold for being ticketed rather than arrested for marijuana possession to 10 grams. The original bill set the threshold at 15 grams, equal to about 30 joints.

The new bill also raises the range for fines to $100 to $200 from $55 to $125 and lowers the limit at which someone can be charged with driving under the influence of marijuana. The limit in last year's bill was 15 nanograms per milliliter of blood, and the new measure would set it at five nanograms, the level Rauner suggested in his veto message.

Steans said the bill is aimed at "providing more consistent and fair enforcement and prosecution of cannabis possession across the state."

The measure also would automatically expunge marijuana possession citations from people's records every six months. It would not supersede local laws enacting fines for marijuana possession.

Brandon Nemec, an assistant state's attorney from Cook County, said prosecutors support the measure.

"It's very much a resource-based rationale for why we support this legislation," Nemec said. "All too often, particularly in Cook County, we have a situation where an individual is arrested for a small amount of cannabis, they are sought to appear before a court, and the case is dismissed."

Those situations use up resources that could be better spent prosecuting higher-level drug crimes and violent offenses and "put someone into the criminal justice system with an arrest on their record," he said.

Sen. Dale Righter, R-Mattoon, was one of the three Republicans on the committee who voted against the bill.

Righter, a former prosecutor, said he has questions about whether the legal system would still be able direct people who need it into drug treatment and how circuit court clerks would handle expungements.

Ralph Rivera of the Illinois Family Institute testified at the committee hearing that he shares the concern about people getting the intervention or treatment they need.

"We're always concerned about what message it is for the youth," he said.

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