Illinois moving toward the decriminalization of marijuana

The Illinois Senate has approved a bill that would lessen the penalties associated with the simple possession of marijuana.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, Washington, D.C., and 20 states have taken steps to decriminalize certain aspects of laws concerning marijuana. Chiefly, these states consider the possession of a small amount of the substance to be a civil violation and not a crime. Illinois is not on that list - but it may be, soon.

Legislators in the Illinois Senate recently voted to take the same stance against people charged with these personal possession amounts. This bill also addresses drivers who are found to have THC in their systems. The measure will now move to the House for consideration.

Current laws

Under the current law in Illinois, even the smallest amount of marijuana in someone's possession, or less than 2.5 grams, could lead to a class C misdemeanor drug crime. That charge carries with it a fine of up to $1,500 as well as up to 30 days in jail. Someone who is arrested on charges of possessing between 2.5 and 10 grams of marijuana would face a class B misdemeanor, punishable by up to six months in jail and a fine of up to $1,500.

As NBC Chicago points out, more than 100 communities across the state have already decriminalized the possession of small amounts of marijuana.

Proposed legislation

Last year, the Illinois governor vetoed a bill that would have permitted someone charged with possession of up to 15 grams of marijuana to face merely a $125 fine. At the time, the argument against the measure was that it would permit people to carry too much of the substance and the fines were not substantial enough.

The bill the Senate approved this year addresses marijuana in amounts of 10 grams or less. According to NBC Chicago, the proposed law would consider these acts to be civil violations, punishable by a fine of between $100 and $200. Further, jail time would not be a consequence.

Addressing DUI

The law includes a relaxed approach to charging drivers with a DUI if they are found to have THC, marijuana's active ingredient, in their systems. Currently, there is a zero-tolerance policy in place, which unfairly targeted drivers who may have used marijuana days or even weeks prior to the arrest.

The new bill proposes that drivers should only face criminal charges if certain amounts of THC are detected. Those limits include having at least 10 nanograms of the substance in saliva or 5 nanograms in the bloodstream.

A spokesperson for the governor's office stated that the new bill is encouraging. Indeed, this approach could prevent people from developing a criminal record for simple possession. Anyone with questions regarding this issue should speak to a criminal defense attorney in Illinois.