A new bill introduced in the Illinois House of Representatives would lower the penalty for an ounce or less of marijuana to a petty offense similar to a traffic violation.
House Bill 100, introduced January 12, would change the consequences of possession of under 28.35 grams of cannabis from a Class A Misdemeanor — punishable by up to a year in jail and a $2,500 fine — down to a petty offense rather than a criminal offense, reports Brendan Denison at the Daily Illini.
If passed, the bill would set a $500 fine for first-time marijuana possession offenders, $750 for second-time offenders, and a $1,000 fine for each offense thereafter.
State Rep. LaShawn Ford, the Democrat who introduced the bill, said he expects it to free up the court systems and reduce the number of people who receive criminal background histories for possessing small amounts of cannabis.
|Photo: Illinois House Democrats|
|Rep. LaShawn Ford: “We are not in the position of denying people access to work, and that’s what this is all about”|
”We are not in the position of denying people access to work, and that’s what this is all about,” Ford said.
Ford said he wasn’t yet sure how much Illinois could save by not prosecuting small time marijuana misdemeanors.
“A lot of these individuals need public defenders; some of them may be arrested and put behind bars,” Ford said.
According to Rep. Ford, with 50 percent of the proposed marijuana possession fines earmarked for law enforcement, “we could put more police on the street.”
University of Illinois Deputy Chief of Police Jeffrey Christensen agreed that the extra funding would help — if the University Police Department were to receive any of that money.
“Funding drugs is one thing that’s kind of self-sustaining, because of all the forfeitures you get,” Christensen said.
What’s more, “Not all two grams of weed we come in contact with results in an arrest,” according to police Lt. Skip Frost.
“Depending on the amount and the level of cooperation we get from students, we’ll let student discipline deal with it,” Frost said.
The bill would positively affect public safety, according to Dylan Christopher, campus president of Students for Sensible Drug Policy.
“The police will be spending time searching for other things, like violent criminals and assaults,” Christopher said.
The bill has been referred to the Rules Committee in the state House of Representatives, and will likely be assigned to a Judiciary Committee.
If approved by these committees, it will go to the House floor for a vote.
Rep. Ford said he expects that Gov. Pat Quinn would sign it because “it’s not going to hurt anybody.”
“Anytime you can decriminalize this amount and bring revenue into the city, there would be good,” Ford said.