Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner signs marijuana decriminalization bill

Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner signs marijuana decriminalization bill

Effective immediately, possession of up to 10 grams of marijuana in Illinois is punishable by a fine, instead of a misdemeanor with possible jail time.

Years after Chicago and other Illinois cities began to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana, the state of Illinois has changed its marijuana possession laws, too.

On July 29, Gov. Bruce Rauner signed Senate Bill 2228, which decriminalizes possession of small amounts of marijuana. Effective immediately, the new law makes possession of up to 10 grams of marijuana a civil offense punishable by a fine of between $100 and $200.

The bill also provides that law enforcement will automatically expunge the civil citation from the record of anyone charged with possessing 10 or fewer grams of marijuana. This would occur within six months after the resolution of the offense and would reduce the chance that possession of small amounts of marijuana will keep a person from finding employment and supporting himself.

Prior to the signing of SB 2228, the Cannabis Control Act made possession of up to 2.5 grams of marijuana a Class C misdemeanor punishable by up to 30 days in jail. Possession of 2.5 to 10 grams was a Class B misdemeanor under the act, and punishable by up to six months in jail.

Not only does this reform stop wasting police resources that can be better focused on more serious crimes, it’ll save the state millions in enforcement and incarceration costs. According to a financial impact analysis by the Illinois Sentencing Policy Advisory Council, exchanging criminal penalties for civil fines would result in a net benefit of up to $24 million to the state of Illinois over three years, including $15.1 million in avoided incarceration and probation costs and up to $9.1 million in estimated ticket revenue from the fines.

Marijuana possession is probably the most minor offense that can result in incarceration and is a waste of limited criminal-justice resources. Abolishing jail time for low-level marijuana possession can prevent the family hardship that often results when a person is incarcerated, as well as job loss, thereby preserving an offender’s long-term prospects for legal employment.

As the governor aims to reduce the prison population by 25 percent by 2025, reforming punishment for marijuana offenses is low-hanging fruit. A small but not insignificant number of inmates in Illinois prisons, 672 people at the end of fiscal year 2014, were serving time for violations of the Cannabis Control Act. Another 731 people were on parole for violations of the act. The $22,000 spent yearly per incarcerated offender would be better focused on more serious offenses.

It’s long past time Illinois stopped wasting taxpayer dollars and redirect law enforcement attention toward serious, violent crimes. Marijuana decriminalization is a small but important step to reforming low-level sentencing and right-sizing the state’s criminal-justice system.

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