Illinois Moving Toward Decriminalizing Marijuana Possession

Both branches of the Illinois legislature are taking a serious look at decriminalizing marijuana possession in the state. In fact, Illinois is so adamant about changing the state’s drug laws that it has been said it is more a matter of when it happens, rather than if. Illinois already boasts some of the country’s more lenient marijuana possession laws. In adopting a formal process to decriminalize the possession of certain amounts of marijuana, Illinois is seemingly indicating its shifting stance on the dangerousness of the drug. As Illinois changes its core criminal drug laws residents will have to understand when criminal consequences may be imposed for possessing, using, and/or growing marijuana in the state of Illinois.

A Shifting Perspective

Why is Illinois considering a huge shift on the criminal consequences for marijuana possession? Legislators are concerned that a prohibition on the drug has not had an impact on crime and violence in the state. It appears they may try a different tactic – one that has had success elsewhere in the country. Instead of letting cartels and gangs control the marijuana trade, which cultivates an environment of violence, Illinois is looking to take the reins.

Illinois residents don’t shy away from using marijuana. A study by the Marijuana Policy Project reported that nearly three-quarters of a million Illinois residents who responded to a survey indicated that they had used marijuana in the month prior to the study. The study also indicated that Illinois residents use more than 11.5 million ounces of the drug each year. This is perhaps in part due to Illinois’ lenient petty possession laws on the books and law enforcement’s attitude toward minor marijuana use. Illinois law enforcement has gone on record saying that targeting marijuana users is not a priority.

Given the popularity of the drug, it appears as though Illinois has decided to shift its position on marijuana rather than continue to fight a losing battle against the cartels and violent gangs. The state hopes that decriminalizing, as well as shifting the means of production and distribution, can reduce violent crime and make Illinois a safer place for its citizens. The model has seen success in other parts of the country, and Illinois hopes to capitalize on the movement.

The Proposed Marijuana Possession Reform

In March 2017, legislation to legalize marijuana was introduced into the Illinois House of Representatives by Chicago Representative Kelly Cassidy and the Illinois Senate by State Senator Heather Steans. If the legislation passes and is signed into law by the governor, Illinois would be the first state to legalize marijuana possession through a legislative process. Other states who have legalized marijuana use have only had success through voter referendums.

Possession Up to 28 Grams

The proposed marijuana legalization reform would decriminalize possession of up to 28 grams of marijuana for Illinois residents over the age of 21. Out-of-state residents would also be permitted to possess marijuana, but the amount would be capped at 14 grams. The legislation would also permit residents to cultivate and grow up to five cannabis plants in their home without repercussions.

Possession Exceeding 28 Grams

Possession exceeding 28 grams (or 14 grams for non-residents) would still have criminal sanctions, though at the current time those sanctions are unclear. Illinois could amend its current penalty scheme to reflect penalties for possession exceeding the permitted amount. Alternatively, it could include specific language in the new legislation to address the penalty for exceeding the permissible amount of the substance.

Public vs. Private Use of Marijuana

Permissible use of legal marijuana would be limited to private spaces. Public use of marijuana would be a criminal offense, punishable by a fine of $100.

Regulating Sales and Use

Under the law, marijuana would be regulated in a manner similar to alcohol. Those interested in purchasing the substance must do so from a licensed distributor, provide photo identification, and pay a tax on the purchase. Licensed dispensaries could face criminal consequences for selling marijuana to those under the age of 21.

Dispensaries for recreational use and medicinal use would remain separate. Illinois’ current medicinal marijuana law would likely remain intact to allow those under 21 to obtain medically necessary treatment.

Law Enforcement Uncertain About How to Police New Regulations

Illinois law enforcement has expressed some reservations about the legalization of marijuana possession in the state. While it may help to reduce violent crime, law enforcement is unsure about the best way to approach policing and enforcing the limitations. Ed Wojcicki, director of the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police, reportedly called the suggested legalization “an enforcement nightmare.” It will be interesting to see how criminality is determined and enforced if the legalization comes to fruition.

Additionally, studies offer conflicting evidence about the legalization of marijuana and the rate of driving under the influence. State law enforcement officers have expressed concern about a rise in driving under the influence and related accidents. Marijuana users may need to be particularly wary of increased DUI liability and seek the counsel of an experienced Chicago criminal defense attorney for marijuana-related charges.

Violating the Law Can Still Have Serious Legal Consequences

Even though Illinois is in talks to legalize possession of marijuana, those who violate the law could still face serious legal consequences. In legalizing marijuana, Illinois is simply legalizing the possession of limited amounts marijuana. Breaking the law can have serious consequences and may require the assistance of an Illinois criminal defense attorney.

Breaking the law – which could include possessing a greater amount than is permitted or smoking in public – could give the police probable cause to search for other drugs or unpermitted weapons. It is unclear how the police will adjust to the legalization of marijuana, especially when it comes to lawful searches and seizures, or determining if a person is in possession of a legal amount of the substance.

As these details are ironed out, however, it is important to get the advice and counsel of an experienced Chicago drug crime defense attorney. The attorneys at Kostopoulos Law Group are staying up-to-date on the shifting Illinois drug laws so that they can provide unparalleled legal representation to clients caught up in the change.

Kostopoulos Law Group
125 S. Wacker Drive, Suite 300 A
Chicago, IL 60606

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