An Illinois bill that would eliminate the possibility of arrest and criminal prosecution for low-level cannabis possession in the state was passed in the state Senate yesterday. The vote was 37-19.
House Bill 218 (HB218) would alter established law enforcement priorities in the state of Illinois. It was introduced in January by Rep. Kelly Cassidy (D-Chicago) along with 26 bipartisan co-sponsors.
It had previously passed in the state House on April 23 by a 62-53 vote. On May 21, it passed in the state Senate by a 37-19 vote. HB218 will now be placed on Gov. Bruce Rauner's desk where he can sign it into law.
The bill changes the criminal code to make possession of up to 15 grams of marijuana a "civil law violation punishable by a minimum fine of $55 and a maximum fine of $125." Possession of over 15 grams but not more than 30 grams would be considered a class B misdemeanor. Possession of over 30 grams but not more than 100 grams would be considered a class A misdemeanor. Possession of a higher quantity than 100 grams would be considered a felony.
Local ordinances could still be enacted to impose fines for cannabis possession that differ from what is authorized under the bill. Possession of paraphernalia is considered a civil infraction punishable "by a minimum fine of $55 and a maximum fine of $125" if it is found during a low-level marijuana possession offense. The law enforcement records of individuals found guilty of the civil infractions created by the HB218 are expunged annually.
Although the passage of HB218 does not mean an immediate end to legal restrictions against marijuana, it is still a great step in the right direction. Decriminalization efforts can often lead the way toward more substantive reforms down the line. After the hysterical 'Reefer Madness' fantasies of the prohibitionists do not come to fruition, it is easier to make the argument for full legalization of the plant.
Activists should embrace any opportunity that they have to make it more difficult for people to be locked in cages for the non-violent non-crime of marijuana possession. The end of the federal drug war is on its way whether detractors like it or not. Measures like HB218 help grease the wheels on our way toward that inevitable goal!
HOW TO SUPPORT THIS BILL
If you live in the state of Illinois, contact Gov. Rauner and politely urge him to sign this important legislation. He can be reached at 217-782-0244.
If you live in different state, contact your state legislators and urge them to introduce a supporting bill to HB218 such as our P.E.A.C.E (Preventing Excessive Allocations for Cannabis Enforcement) Act.