Illinois Becomes Latest State to Approve Pro-Marijuana Measures

By McCarton Ackerman 05/26/15

Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner has been silent on whether or not he'll sign the passed measure.

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Illinois has become the latest state to jump on the pro-marijuana bandwagon by passing a measure that would decriminalize possession of small amounts of pot.

The Illinois Senate approved the measure on Thursday by a 37-19 margin. The new policy calls for no court time and a maximum fine of $125 for anyone with less than 15 grams of marijuana, roughly the equivalent of 25 cigarette-sized joints. It’s a significant reduction from the current possession penalties that call for fines of up to $2,500 and up to 12 months in jail.

The state’s zero tolerance law for driving with marijuana in one’s system will also be modified. The official “driving while high” threshold would be 15 nanograms of THC per milliliter of blood, or 25 ng/ml of saliva. Police will still be allowed to use field sobriety tests to determine impairment in drivers.

“I would encourage the children of this state and my own children to abstain from the use of the substance, but people do use this, and it should not be something that ruins social lives and professional lives as well," said sponsoring Sen. Michael Noland (D-Elgin). “People have been arrested at very young ages for this and have suffered the consequences.”

Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner still needs to sign the measure in order for it to go into effect, but sponsors are currently working on cleaning up some of the language in the bill before sending it to his desk. He has remained silent on whether he intends to sign the measure, with spokeswoman Catherine Kelly only stating that he “will carefully consider any legislation that crosses his desk.”

Rep. Kelly Cassidy (D-Chicago) also applauded the measure and said it would keep low-level offenders out of the state’s already clogged prison system. However, she was more hesitant to suggest that the bill was part of a speedy process towards marijuana legalization in the state.

"I think a poll would find more ... support for legalization among the public than politicians, but that's simply not politically feasible in the General Assembly now," Cassidy said. "I do think that's the direction we're going. When we get there is anyone's guess."

Opponents of the bill have noted flaws in its language, including not having a stated limit on the number of tickets an offender can receive. They have also objected to the measure not having treatment requirements in place for those that do offend.

Chicago adopted a relatively similar citywide measure in 2012, allowing police to avoid arresting citizens by instead issuing $250-500 fines for anyone caught with 15 grams or less of marijuana.

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.