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Marijuana Decriminalization Bill Moves Forward At State Level

By Rachel Cromidas in News on May 22, 2015 3:20PM

The Illinois legislature is moving forward with a much-anticipated bill to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana, but it still has a few steps to clear before arriving on the governor's desk.

The bill cleared the House last month, and the Senate voted 37-19 to approve the legislation Tuesday afternoon. But Sen Michael Noland, D-Elgin, one of the bill's sponsors, say they're still tweaking the language of it.

The possession of a small amount of pot—up to 15 grams, or about 25 joints—would go from a crime with a $2,500 fine and the potential for a year in jail to a penalty similar to a traffic ticket. That means offenders would face no court time and be fined closer to $125.

The bill also has a provision changing the definition of marijuana intoxication, which would affect whether someone driving with marijuana's active component, THC, in their system would merit a Driving Under the Influence charge. THC stays in the body much longer than alcohol does, even after the high wears off. This bill would make 15 nanograms of THC per milliliter of blood the new legal limit for driving while intoxicated with pot, rather than the current legal limit, which is zero.

Chicago already has a fining system for marijuana possession and rather than override those policies, the bill would more likely serve to standardize the new penalty system throughout the state, while also eliminating any chance that someone would be arrested only for carrying a small amount of marijuana, according to the Tribune.

Chicago enacted the policy of giving police the option to merely fine people between $250 and $500 for being caught with 15 grams of marijuana or less in 2012. Recently Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez said her office would stop prosecuting many marijuana possession cases, particularly for people who have fewer than three arrests.

Sen. Jason Barickman, R-Champaign, who was among the Republicans who voted for the bill Tuesday, told the Tribune that he thought it would help the state save money by reducing the costs associated with sending people to court.