Illinois City Decriminalizes Marijuana; Stop Forward to Stop Prohibition in Effect

LINCOLN, Ill. (Oct. 6, 2016) – Last month, the Lincoln City Council voted to decriminalize marijuana within the city limits, a step toward effectively thwarting federal prohibition in practice.

Under the old law, possession of less than 2.5 grams of marijuana was a Class C misdemeanor, punishable by up to 30 days in jail and $2,500 in fines. The new ordinance makes possession of small amounts of marijuana a civil infraction, removing the misdemeanor classification for possession of less than 30 grams of marijuana. Any person possessing 10 grams of marijuana or less will now be subject to a fine of $250 to $500. Possession of between 10 and 30 grams of marijuana is punishable by a fine of not less than $750. The new ordinance eliminates jail time for possession of less than 30 grams of marijuana and those found guilty will not have a misdemeanor on their record. The new ordinance provides similar provisions for possession of drug paraphernalia.

The council unanimously passed the new ordinance 8-0.

The new ordinance puts the City of Lincoln more in line with a state law that passed earlier this year decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana at the state level. In the Illinois system, local government enjoy a great deal of autonomy in formulating their own policies.

Impact on Federal Prohibition

This local decriminalization effort represents a kind of local version of the anti-commandeering doctrine.

The Supreme Court has long held that the federal government cannot force states to assist with implementation of enforcement of federal acts or programs. When states refuse to cooperate with federal enforcement, it makes it extremely difficult for the feds to assert their will. This has proved particularly true when it comes to marijuana. State legalization of weed and the end of state enforcement blocks federal prohibition in practice. FBI statistics reveal law enforcement makes approximately 99 of 100 marijuana arrests under state, not federal law. The federal government simply lacks the resources to enforce its marijuana laws on its own. We’ve seen this play out in every state that has legalized marijuana for medical or general use.

Strategically, this kind of local action can help thwart federal prohibition. If enough cities and counties in Illinois decriminalize marijuana, it will magnify the impact of the new state law and significantly hinder federal efforts to ban the plant in the state.

This is a powerful strategy we can use to rein in federal overreach with a total bottom up approach, starting at the local level, and then working up through the state, ultimately eroding federal power completely away.