Signed by the Governor: Illinois Law to Decriminalize Marijuana Possession Now in Effect

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (Aug 10, 2016) – Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner recently signed a bill into law decriminalizing marijuana for adults and changing criminal penalties into civil infractions. The proposal not only decriminalizes marijuana in the Prairie State, it also takes a step toward blocking federal cannabis prohibition in practice in Illinois.

Sen. Heather Steans (D-Chicago) introduced Senate Bill 2228 (SB2228) with 17 bipartisan co-sponsors in January. The legislation changes the Illinois state criminal code to make possession of “not more than 10 grams of any substance containing cannabis is guilty of a civil law violation punishable by a minimum fine of $100 and a maximum fine of $200.”

SB2228 passed the House on May 18 by a 64-50 vote. The Senate previously passed the measure on Apr. 19 by a 40-14 vote, With Gov. Rauner’s signature on July 29, the law went into immediate effect.

Public policy analyst Hilary Gowins illustrated the importance of this decriminalization measure in an Illinois Policy Institute report:

Illinois’ criminal-justice system must ensure public safety – it must also be fair and effective. Refocusing priorities by reforming the way the system punishes people for low-level possession offenses will lower costs and allow police to focus on serious crimes, while also ensuring that the state doesn’t ensnare people caught with small amounts of marijuana in a costly and ineffective system.

Gowins also noted in her report that Gov. Rauner vetoed similar legislation last year, saying restrictions relating to marijuana possession were not stringent enough. At the time, Gov. Rauner said he would be open to signing a marijuana decriminalization bill that maintained stronger penalties. SB2228 accomplished this while still being a worthwhile reform to push back the excesses of prohibition. Rauner kept his word and signed the bill.

Other relevant provisions in SB2228 include a fine of between $100 and $200 for possession of paraphernalia related to the use of marijuana, which can be levied in addition to the fine for simple possession. Possession of marijuana in greater quantities than 10 grams would still be considered criminal offenses, but penalties and classifications for those crimes would be reduced under the bill as well.

Measures such as SB2228 are completely lawful, and there is little if anything the feds can do to stop them in practice.

EFFECT ON FEDERAL PROHIBITION

Passage of SB2228 removes one layer of laws prohibiting the possession and use of marijuana, but federal prohibition remains in place.

Of course, the federal government lacks any legal authority to ban or regulate marijuana within the borders of a state, despite the opinion of the politically connected lawyers on the Supreme Court. If you doubt this, ask yourself why it took a constitutional amendment to institute federal alcohol prohibition.

While the Illinois bill does not alter federal law, it takes a step toward stopping in effect the federal ban. FBI statistics show that law enforcement makes approximately 99 of 100 marijuana arrests under state, not federal law. By easing state laws, the Illinois legislature essentially sweeps away the basis for 99 percent of marijuana arrests.

Furthermore, figures indicate it would take 40 percent of the DEA’s yearly-budget just to investigate and raid all of the dispensaries in Los Angeles – a single city in a single state. That doesn’t include the cost of prosecution. The lesson? The feds lack the resources to enforce marijuana prohibition without state assistance.

Illinois joins a growing number of states simply ignoring federal prohibition. Colorado, Oregon, Washington state and Alaska have all legalized both recreational and medical marijuana, and 25 states now allow cannabis for medical use. With nearly half the country legalizing marijuana, the feds find themselves in a position where they simply can’t enforce prohibition any more. The feds need state cooperation to fight the “drug war,” and that has rapidly evaporated in the last few years with state legalization, practically thwarting the ban.

“The lesson here is pretty straight forward. When enough people say, ‘No!’ to the federal government, and enough states pass laws backing those people up, there’s not much the feds can do to shove their so-called laws, regulations or mandates down our throats,” public policy analyst Michael Boldin said.