Illinois Marijuana Decrim Bill Will Benefit Chicago
A bill to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana and related paraphernalia was given final passage by the Illinois General Assembly on May 18. Governor Bruce Rauner now has 60 days to sign it into law.
The legislation removes the possibility of arrest for less than 10 grams of cannabis and imposes fines of up to $200. The law also set a limit of 5 nanograms of THC per milliliter in blood and 10 nanograms of THC per milliliter of saliva as the threshold for a DUI charge. That aspect of the law is controversial. Marijuana law reform groups, scientific studies and other data do not support such tests as an indicator of actual impairment form marijuana. The well known auto driver’s group AAA recently acknowledged that such THC thresholds were not based in science.
One big change could be in Chicago, where a local decriminalization ordinance was supported by Mayor Rahm Emanuel and passed in 2012. But the Chicago police never broadly implemented the option to issue tickets rather than make arrests.
The Chicago Reader reported in 2014:
Just 1,725 marijuana-possession tickets were handed out between August 2012 and this February—while 20,844 arrests were made during the same period for possession of less than 15 grams.
And as with the arrests, most of the tickets—a whopping 70%—were issued to African-Americans. Another 18% went to Hispanics, while whites received 11%.
Things never got any better. Possession arrests were still skyrocketing. Now, four years later, after a national conversation on criminal justice reform and several public scandals by the Chicago police, the consensus has shifted. The new statewide decrim law would finally close off the dimebag-to-prison pipeline that’s been running for decades in Chicago.
We don’t need to bog down our court systems with criminal cases filed against people who were caught with a small amount of marijuana. It’s a big expense in several ways. Tax dollars people pay for police protection instead are going to pay police to show up in court to help prosecute someone who had a tiny amount of pot. More serious crimes the police could have been preventing instead carry a cost. And people saddled with criminal records for recreational marijuana use may have trouble in the future obtaining jobs or housing, which carries a cost to society as well.
That’s why some law enforcement officials are pushing for the law, including the Illinois State’s Attorneys Association and Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart.
Decriminalization is a positive step forward. Most states and cities, like Massachusetts and Philadelphia, have seen more than 80% reductions in overall arrests over the last few years.
Take action now with NORML and urge Gov. Rauner to sign the bill here.
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