People caught in possession of 10 grams or less of marijuana will now face a fine of up to $200, as opposed to being arrested and possibly facing jail time, under a new law (Senate Bill 2228) signed by Gov. Rauner July 29. The new law makes Illinois the 17th state in the country to adopt a measure that decriminalizes small amounts of marijuana.
Opponents argue the new law sets a bad example, noting marijuana use and possession is still an offense under Federal law. They also expressed concerns with provisions in the law that would automatically expunge citations twice a year. Additionally, critics said they would have liked to see a mechanism included in the law to provide for court supervision, treatment, and intervention, for both adults and minors.
However, proponents of the law argued it creates a uniform penalty on cannabis possession throughout the state, and will help reduce Illinois’ overcrowded jails and court systems, which are often inundated with minor drug cases. Removing these low-level offenders from the system would free up public resources for law enforcement, state’s attorney’s offices and county jails. In addition, the reduction in penalties and expungement of the civil offense means low-level violators won’t have to live with harsh lifelong consequences, such as lost employment, education, or housing options, due to a small possession arrest.
Though the legislation was worked out with input from prosecutors and law enforcements, a number of law enforcement organizations said they are concerned about the impact of a provision in the law that establishes THC levels, the chemical responsible for marijuana’s psychological effects that are allowable while driving.
Under the new law, only drivers with a THC level of five nanograms or higher in their blood will face DIU charges, as opposed to a zero-tolerance DUI law Illinois had on the books regarding marijuana. However, proponents stressed that this provision addressed situations where an individual may have had only a trace amount of marijuana in their system from using it weeks ago, and while they were no longer under the influence of the drug, they would have been charged with a DUI under the state’s former zero-tolerance policy.
Senate Bill 2228 took effect upon being signed into law.