Illinois Decriminalizes Marijuana Possession

Illinois recently passed legislation that removes criminal penalties for simple marijuana possession and replaces them with a civil fine.

Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner signed legislation last month that decriminalizes minor marijuana possession. Under Senate Bill 2228, which was signed and took effect on July 29, 2016, possession of 10 grams or less of marijuana is a civil offense and punishable by a fine of up to $200.

Previously, marijuana possession of up to 2.5 grams was a class C misdemeanor and punishable by a fine of up to $1,500 and up to 30 days in jail. Possession of 2.5 to 10 grams was a class B misdemeanor and punishable by up to a $1,500 fine and up to six months in jail. Every year, almost 50,000 Illinoisans are arrested for cannabis possession.

“We applaud Gov. Rauner and the legislature for replacing Illinois’s needlessly draconian marijuana possession law with a much more sensible policy,” Chris Lindsey, senior legislative counsel for the Marijuana Policy Project said in a statement. “This commonsense legislation will prevent countless citizens from having their lives turned upside down by a marijuana possession arrest. Nobody should face a lifelong criminal record and potential jail time for possessing a substance that is safer than alcohol. Serious criminal penalties should be reserved for people who commit serious crimes, not low-level marijuana offenses.”

The new law also removes the possibility of a criminal record. Municipalities are required to purge citation records for possession every six months.

SB 2228 was introduced by Senator Heather Steans (D-Chicago) and was co-sponsored by Representative Kelly Cassidy (D-Chicago).

“Illinois had a drug policy on the books that wasn’t making the public any safer but was exacerbating unacceptable inequalities in the criminal justice system,” Steans said in a statement. “By decriminalizing the possession of small amounts of cannabis, we’re eliminating something that in practice had become a net that disproportionately ensnared minorities and the poor, then stigmatized them with a criminal record that made it difficult to get a job or an education.”

Before the passing of the law, more than 100 Illinois communities had already locally decriminalized simple marijuana possession. The new law removes criminal penalties throughout Illinois, which becomes the 21st state to remove jail time from possession penalties.

The new law also establishes a new standard for driving impairment, which had previously been a zero-tolerance policy. With the passing of the bill, the standard is set to 5 nanograms of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in a driver’s blood within two hours of consumption.

“This is commonsense, carefully crafted legislation that recognizes the deleterious effects arrests and prosecutions for small-scale cannabis possession have had on individuals, families and communities,” Steans said. “Our drug policy should reflect a genuine concern for public health and public safety, not enshrine in state law the fears and biases of the past.”

The bill was similar to legislation introduced in the House last year by Rep. Cassidy, which was vetoed by Gov. Rauner. Lawmakers proposed legislation that would have made possession of up to 15 grams a civil offense punishable with a fine between $55 and $125. The bill also initially proposed the standard for a marijuana-related DUI to 15 nanograms. Gov. Rauner had wanted a slightly stricter law.

For more information on the cannabis laws in Illinois and around the country, visit our education page.