IL Poised to Decriminalize Marijuana

Illinois Set to Decriminalize Marijuana in Small Amounts

A House Bill  (HB 218) awaiting Governor Rauner’s signature would decriminalize possession of small amounts (15 grams) of marijuana. Instead of being arrested and charged with a misdemeanor crime, individuals would be ordered to pay a fine. It would be akin to getting a parking ticket.

If someone cited for marijuana possession under HB 218 also has drug paraphernalia, s/he can be fined for both infractions. In all other cases, possession of drug paraphernalia will still be treated as a criminal offense.

Local Marijuana Laws Will Remain in Effect

In 2012, Chicago enacted an ordinance that decriminalized possession of up to 15 grams of marijuana. Because it is still a crime under state law to possess marijuana, Chicago police officers were left to decide whether to ticket or arrest someone. This led to racial disparities during the first year the ordinance was in effect. Whites got ticketed more than people of color.

In the event that HB 218 is signed into law, local ordinances such as Chicago’s will not be invalidated. In 2014, 105 Illinois cities had rules for ticketing small amounts of marijuana (most for up to 10 grams).  These cities will be permitted to continue ticketing and fining violators under their own rules

Civil Fines Set by Judge

HB 218 sets fines at between $55 and $125 per violation. A judge will determine the actual amount of the fine.  In Chicago, a hearing officer determines the amount of the fine.  However, in Chicago, first-time violators face significantly higher fines: $250 to $500.

If someone refuses to pay the fine, a judge can enter a civil judgment against the individual.

Records pertaining to the civil citation (police and court records) will automatically be expunged, except when the person fails to pay the fine.

The decriminalization of minor drug offenses statewide will come as good news to those who inhale, especially teens and young adults.  Governor Rauner has until August 18th to sign HB 218.  If he takes no action by then, the bill will become law automatically.